The Sonder R eview
A publication of art, short fiction and creative nonfiction
Founder/Executive Editor | Elena M. Stiehler Nonfiction Editor/Social Media & Marketing Director | Jeremy A. Jackson Art Director/General Editor | Sasha Pincus Cover Art | 'Reports of Bodies' by Allison Morton
All rights reserved. The Sonder Review retains First North American Serial Rights of all published fiction and nonfiction. No aspect of this publication my be reproduced, in part or in whole, without the explicit permission of the editors. Issue 8 | Summer 201 7
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own â€“ an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that youâ€™ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
'[Writing] is art and art is the triumph over chaosâ€Śto celebrate a world that lies spread out around us like a bewildering and stupendous dream.'
From the Editor | Elena M. Stiehler
'Biddlecom Sweeny' | Megan Parker
'Salt' | Amy VanDeburgh Fant 'The Aquarium' | Suzzanna Matthews Amanzio 'The Anvil' | Tom Barlow
24 28 54
'The Clairvoyant' | Ann Fisher
'Technitos' | A.A. Azariah Kribbs
'A Fleeting History of Phylum, Class, Order, and Family' | Jennifer Clark 80 'At a Loss' | Chelsey Clammer 22 'In Media Res On the Road in the Deep South, Destination: Katrina | Louis Gallo 38 4
'October #1 ', 'October#2' & 'October #3' | Michal Mitak 'Desire' | Shushanik Karapetyan 'The Anchor of Moonlight' | Bill Wolak 'Polaroids' | Allison Morton
23, 21 , & 27 9 37 91
'Untitled' | Alexander Chernavskiy 'Doorknob with Keyhole' | Amanda Bess Allen 'Faces of Liaison Proxy' | Sandeep Kumar Mishra 'Hitchhikers Guide to a Puddle' | Joshua H. Baker 'Nizhoni' | Stephanie Flood
13 65 52 6 79
From the Editor
| Elena M. Stiehler
Change has been rampant in my life as of late – two moves in under two years, the last one less than two months ago; the launch of our lovely little press; the building of my own, second, small business (this one horse related, my other passion.) Change is something I struggle with, something I fear, something which easily overwhelms me – all of the countless, utterly uncontrollable, potential successes or catastrophes awaiting me in the wings – and it is something which brings with it more work, more responsibilities. It is something which makes me question if I am doing the right thing, if I can do it well enough, or at all. Still I seem to run after it, flagging it down, taking on project after project, jumping into everything head first. As my mother likes to remind me: . And this is true. Some days I think about how nice it would feel, to just set some things down. To choose certainty and stability and the clear path forward – to choose only one path to focus on. It is animal instinct, our instinct, to fear the unknown, to cultivate an existence based on what is quantifiable, known and within our capacity for control. But I think this is an instinct to be taken with a grain of salt. The truth is, we have no capacity for control. A rock could fall from the sky and implode our entire planet. We can lose our jobs, our lives, our loves in a blink. Our trajectories, no matter how simple or how straight, might be shattered in any, single instant. But continuing with Sonder – through all of the moments I felt that I couldn’t pull this issue together, let alone another one; that I couldn’t do this that without failing at both, without letting it all fall apart – has taught me ignore that instinct, to step into my discomfort and fear of failure and lack of control. To focus not on what could or ought to be, but what is. What is good in this moment. I love Sonder. I love sharing this work with the world, I love editing and working with authors to perfect
their work, I love this process. Yes, the issue may be a little late. Yes, the email queue is backlogged and there are days where I’m not sure I can possibly get through everything without sacrificing what I wanted in the first place. But, so what? So what. I am doing what I love – all of it. I am laboring in love and as long as I trust that instinct, no matter what might come, that is all the success that really matters. Thus, I give you Issue 8. Nine startling, succulent, singular pieces. Each its own labor of love, each a vital vision into some facet of this human life rendered in vivid, thoughtful prose. In ‘The Anvil’ a brother lusts for his sister’s heart. ‘The Clairvoyant’ sees a couple seeking purpose in lives half lived and ‘At a Loss’ searches for answers in the wake of a shattering death. In ‘A Fleeting History of Phylum, Class, Order, and Family’ a daughter rediscovers her father, while ‘In Media Res On the Road in the Deep South, Destination: Katrina’ looks for sense in the wake of tragedy. Both ‘Biddlecom Sweeny’ and ‘Technitos’ examine what it is to be human and whole. Finally, in ‘The Aquarium’ a father battles with the cost of saving his daughter, while ‘Salt’ contemplates the slow unraveling of a life. Every one of the pieces in this issue feel necessary to me. To craft, to share, to set loose on this teeming, vast planet. I hope something in this issue touches you, reaches out and says, me too – settles into your skin, fresh but familiar – an old feeling forgotten, coming home at last. Most of all, as ever, I hope you enjoy.
| Ann Fisher
Neither could remember exactly how it had started with the dog and the Ouija board and the slipping of their lives into daily questions that begged for answers. In the beginning, it was the relationship that had held the needle to True North; the fresh folds of each other like soft sheets on the bed, warm in their rumpled glory. Soon after, careers made their bearings known and together, they followed that new course, journeying toward purpose, prestige and financial security. And then, pudgy baby hands took over the job, pointing them in all directions they had needed to go. Then just like that, the kids were grown; dispersed here and there, the last one suddenly gone. And the house was empty, but somehow, full of something the two of them did not recognize. Or even remember. He had discovered it as he had cleaned out the closet in the family room. An old Ouija board, without the game piece, long since forgotten. Like a conjuring of something from their past, the board refused to head out the door with the other boxes of discarded relics. It found a place for itself under the dogâ€™s bowl in the kitchen. What began as a game, ended up as the lifeline guiding them through the vast expanse of untethered time. It was in that space that the dogâ€™s presence grew. Old now, in canine years, his span of life connected them back to previous renditions of themselves. He was a black mutt brindled with red from unknown ancestry, and he, like them, had begun to tinge grey as life had furrowed. In the beginning, they posed questions openly to the dog. His bowl perched 10
on the worn board, the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ poised to hold the right answers. Obligingly, he nosed his dish one way or the other. They stood, heads together, considering what questions to ask. It was a game of wishes they could re find themselves in, and the discovery of their clairvoyant pet began to shed longed for lightness into the house. Their laughter rose together; a sound they remembered, almost like it used to be. ‘We should ask about the lottery’ ‘Let’s see if Rufus thinks we should eat out tonight.’ The dog played his part well, nudging them toward direction. They took his influence, in absence of their own, and the weeks stacked lengthwise, a bridge to an unknown resolution. ‘This morning’s answer was yes!’ he told her one day, as she arrived home from the office, bags in tow, car keys clinking down on the chest by the front door. ‘Oh, and what was the question?’ ‘Will I get some tonight!’ and he looked at her with those eyes she used to know so well, and they forgot about all the pressing questions. For a while, the game reminded them of early navigations based solely on joys and desires. But in time, the meaning of the scrape of the bowl across the board shifted. Until it was the dog’s answers that drove their questions. Soon, the asking and the feeding and the waiting became the ritual that fended off the hollowness opening around them. ‘Rufus, should we refinance the house?’ ‘Should I leave my job?’ ‘Should we get another dog?’ (to this question, the answer was unequivocally clear) And then, as the months passed and the house seemed to grow bigger and more silent, the dog dug for deeper questions, without saying a word or
barking for his dinner. ‘Rufus, should we go to the ocean again, like we used to?’ ‘Will it be the same?’ And before they knew it, they waited in anticipation of feeding time, almost as much as the dog did, framing questions and wondering about answers and all the while, dreaming of direction. Too many decisions hovered over them now. Not only about which shoes to wear or what they should eat, but what they should do about living. The dog and the board had become the fulcrum where the two of them teetered, barely balanced, the undersides of all the simple questions too raw to name out loud. They solicited the dog in secret, each bowl placed with greater desperation. ‘Should I say something?’ ‘Rufus, will we be able to figure this out?’ The dog grew fat on the diet of their doubt. ‘Movie tonight?’ morphed to ‘Should we move?’ followed by the far more pertinent question, ‘Is it over?’ Maybe, came the reply. Maybe.
| A.A. Azaria Kribbs
The first time his system failed she thought she could
She tried injecting more fluids and went through every method of initiating restart. But he made a sound unlike any she had heard, high and piercing, so she let him have his moment of assimilation. He was an old model in an untried system. In his language, she was also a beginner. She was used to twitchy appliances. Downloaded upgrades were now considered removable if they contradicted the functionality of the whole, leaving her well within her rights to remove parts. There were times she seriously considered replacing his primary drive, particularly as his own was full of inconsistencies and errors that required constant supervision and correction. But she could never bring herself to compromise him. In a sense, he was her creation, and she spoiled him in the purity of his design. His essence had been preserved in darkness and ice. She could not imagine how old his coding must be, but she had developed and upgraded what she could without altering the basic structure. His function was questionable; her patience proved that his skeleton was humanoid and his composition vulnerable. She protected his sensitivity to the outer sphere with liniment. It was fortunate she did not attempt to stabilize his casing, for the web like canvas that protected his working parts stretched with each gradual upgrade, and stunted progress could have split the mechanism if his skeleton continued to lengthen. He was just taller than she when his line of measurement stabled. He was of no practical value. She could not guess what he was for, except that through her concentrated attention his behavior became less confused, his interactions with her less abrasive. He projected sound through a curious imitation of her voice, curious because it never followed her pattern but showed the genuine complexity of his motherboard in undulation and intonation. Unlike other models, he made 14
language his own, and mastered it with effort. There was charm in that idiosyncrasy. There was a curious attraction in the way he looked for her to guide him as if his processor were in some fundamental way, learning and dependent. She began to think, watching him and seeing the shine and quickness of his eyes, that he was alive. She called him ‘Holmes.’ This was a new word and a new connection. He processed ‘Holmes,’ rolling it on his tongue. His tongue was one of his more sophisticated members. She had spent hours trying to place the exact fusing that allowed such functionality, but the wires were too integrated and she wouldn’t risk a deeper examination. She knew too well how sensitive his coding was to any adjustment. Her interest in his structure roused another facet of his programming. He was patient under her light and probe, but instead of obeying in silence he began to question. He raised himself and took her face in his hands. Such vivid curiosity intrigued her. She opened her mouth so he could see the difference between them, and watched his concentration in a mirror. His eyes were large and sharp. They, like his tongue, were complex. Exponential in their intricacy, they were vulnerable to touch, and her efforts to discover a familiar mechanism in their design had occasioned moments when she almost believed he was in pain. She had promised never to hurt him. With the fluid rising on his lid and falling on his cheek, he had listened. He seemed, by a preternatural empathy, to trust her. Holmes studied her in the light. She could feel the warm pattern of his ventilation on her face. His eye locked. His pupil dilated, a subtle but visible adjustment in ocular intensity. His hand on her face trembled. It was the tremble that intrigued her, and the fast, successive beats of his lashes, quick over moistening visuals. The sound of his air exchange deepened. She had heard that heavy process before. It made her question his awareness. It signaled a stressed cognitive vein, stalling other settings, or increased activity to an overload. She closed her mouth, moved the light, and took his hand in hers. His temperature had dropped to compensate for speeding translation and his hand was cold. He tried to pull free. He looked at himself in the mirror and his whole body was shaking. A taut decision
steeled his countenance and he seized one of the sharp probes from her table of instruments. She recognized his purpose. He would answer all her questions and his, and destroy himself. She caught him, shook him. Her forcefulness restored the lost pattern of his equilibrium. The probe fell from his fingers. She held his eyes and looked at his streaked face. Whether or not his reactions were coded, his conflict was definite. It was real. It was incredible that he could be so afraid of their difference that he would risk permanent damage on the one hope he might become like her. That was impaired sentience, flawed and impractical. Most assistance manufacturers installed graded egos for self sufficiency, but his intelligence was acute to self harm. He understood his loss and could not bear it. This was more than a fear of fabricationSit was the unequivocal knowledge of a divide, the terror of loneliness. She wrapped her arms around his thin frame and held him. He had liked to be held in the early stages of development. Now he struggled to free himself. At her insistence his head dropped on her chest, and he heaved and collapsed into her support. She held him, stroking the trimmed hair fibers, the short, light growth at the back of his neck. ‘Holmes,’ she saidS‘Holmes.’ He lifted his head. ‘Holmes’ was a link between them and a bond deeper than configuration and symmetry. There was no logic behind the word, yet it possessed simultaneously all the concreteness of a principle and the imagination and expanse of theory. He responded on a rudimentary level, attentive, engaged. His lids no longer flickered but his directional compass must have been impaired, his gaze focusing on her mouth and not her eyes. ‘Holmes,’ she said again. He listened. ‘You’re mine,’ she said. ‘Do you hear me? You are mine. You are not to be touched. You will never be harmed. Do you understand?’ He nodded. She smoothed the wet tracks on his face. ‘What is your name?’ she asked. ‘Who are you?’ “Holmes.” He hesitated. He put his arms around her. ‘I am yours.’ A subtle change affected their relationship. His attention to her had been close; now it was amusingly solicitous. His awareness of her expertise in the medical and revisionary field transitioned from cursory 16
interest to dedication, and he persuaded her to teach him. Again, it took time to update his filing from temp to permanent, but under her direction he began to show unique skill. The peculiar fault that made him reactive to pain also made him deliberate in performance, and sensitive to the needs of clients. When she saw his handiwork she was satisfied she had discovered his worth. Assembly was finished weeks ahead of what she could accomplish alone, and her queue increased with interest in her protĂŠgĂŠ. Soon, she knew, she would be asked to present him to the Board of Artificial Assistance. Holmesâ€™s make was original, untested, and she prepped him with care. All he had known was her laboratory and yard. Of course he was presentable: she had made clothes for him after a pattern that suited his peculiarities, and found him handsome and charming, his tall thin body complimented by tailoring. She took special pride in his unique beauty. He always complained at her care and the way she combed him and edited his posture, but she enjoyed brushing and decorating him, as if that were another purpose to his beingSto be loved. There was certainly no other excuse for his complete inability to maintain a fixed polish. Their initial steps into the outer city proved vital. She showed him how to follow lines free of electric recharge and, by example, how to interact with others. His difference was at first too visible, but as he adapted he became less conspicuous. He learned to moderate those ticks that revealed non standardized manufacture, but he could not hide his inherent curiosity and wonder. For his sake, she wished he had less emotive casing. His energy pulse was rampant when active. She tried to explain how important it was that he follow the regulated pattern. But he was a perilous alloy of new sentience and outmoded composition. He did not understand. He showed a particular inclination towards turns and quiet corners. In this, as in other weaknesses, she indulged him, because he never seemed more alive than when he was tempting discovery. She named what he saw, the roads, the hangars, before they reached the nameless spaces where she watched him in silence. She remembered the illusion of his happiness as if it were real. She would remember what he looked like, crouched by broken paving to see what lived in the cracks. The congruity had almost passed her: his fixation for things that were hidden, fragile. Unneeded things that survived. The day of the review, she reminded him of his behavior.
She did not want to stress the importance of his passing in case he responded with hyper impetus, but he seemed to infer it. To her surprise, he responded with a coolness and class beyond what she anticipated. His posture was perfect and his intonation clipped. Her justifiable pride was almost relief. She had tried to prepare herself for potential error and rejection. If the review labeled him unsafe she would be asked to dispose or reconfigure, depending on their assessment. She told herself it wasn’t harm, that change was improvement. She knew, despite her reservations, that this was truth. The conference table was like a mirror, waxed and reflective. She showed him where to sit and sat beside him, watching how he settled himself, poised but not overtly engaged. She recognized the members of the Board and exchanged brief courtesies. This was not the first time she had faced a review. Her penchant for creation had seen both the approval and disassembly of a small army of automatons. One of the reviewers greeted Holmes and he responded quietly, politely, as she had directed him. They questioned him about his work: how long he had been trained and if he was still supervised. They expressed surprise when they learned she no longer managed him, and concern for his level of autonomy. They asked him what his imprint was and he did not know how to answer. They asked her for details of his manufacture and she showed them the digitized process. There was silence and a stir of excitement. The board addressed the subject. ‘What is your model? Your principle?’ ‘Holmes’ he said. ‘And what is your function, Holmes?’ asked the Chair of the Board. ‘What are you?’ She could see the telltale emotion, his too keen appraisal, as he looked at each face in turn. The apparent sentience she prized in him was at this place and time, his most patent defect. But his chin was level and his mode effortlessly graceful, and she was ashamed she could not save him. ‘What I am,’ he saidS‘I am yours.’ Her head turned. In seeing the hands he held in his lap, she saw how tightly his fingers were twined and knew if she touched them they would be cold as ice. His behavior was taxed but did not reveal 18
itself above the table: unsound execution, but advanced acumen. She was given a certificate and allowed, with the caveat of perpetual supervision, to use him. There were risks in fostering him. What she had brought to life was, they allowed, almost impossible. It was not all right. It roused a fear that had almost been forgotten. Holmes was more than competentShe was not flawless. She had not kept him as close as she had when he was new, new to the intricacies of being and the invisible but less transcendent rules of order, but it was inevitable that the truth would reveal itself. And when he fumbled, peeling his hands on an abrasive surface, he bled. Holmes sucked in a hiss and raised his hand involuntarily to his mouth. The sting had his attention and he did not realize how quiet it was in an instant, in the assembly room. She noticed. She saw her clients follow his motion. Their rigid attention, their silence, was complete. He raised himself with rueful but humorous shame, and at last the quietness impressed him. Intuiting the cause, he tried to hide his hand behind his back when a customer pulled him sharply forward. They examined the wound and at that merciless pressure he cried out in anguish. She heard him. The others heard, too, and their reaction was as immediate. There was no cruelty at the core of their decision. A need influenced them, the terror of something half remembered. Their dialogue was incoherent, a confusion of disbelief and dizzied scrutiny. Her impulse forced him back. Her suddenness more than her strength, saved him, but her intervention excited a frenzy. They tore at her face, arms, throat. The violence of their terror ripped the synthetic canvas and exposed the silicon mold. It dislocated the lens over her visibility socket and left the radial sonar exposed. The transparent casing revealed the central brain, small and bathed in liquid nutrients, coolants and chemical preservatives. In her structure juxtaposed to the frightened creature behind her they saw their loss, and were agonized. She felt no pain. She forced him into the laboratory and the door sealed at her code. He stood against the steel table while she struggled somehow to the window. Her hands had been disjointed in the assault. He helped her. Her sensory probe was ruptured and she could not feel it, but saw from the way he inhaled, the motion of his eyelids and the tense line of his shoulders, that he felt the change in temperature and the texture of the outside air. He would need his liniment.
‘Go,’ she said. ‘Come with me.’ Her neck support was fractured. He knelt beside her and raised her against him, and she tried to put her hands on his face. He took her fingers and pressed them to his cheek. He kissed them. It was a fragile gesture, innocent and pure. She looked at his eyes and wondered why they were not liquid. She knew that if she could touch him now, he would be warm. ‘Go,’ she said. ‘Run.’ He placed his foot on the frame. He turned to her and before she could speak, stooped again. ‘Holmes.’ He lifted her with effort. It was a steep climb to the pavement. He tried to ease through but the opening was too narrow. ‘Holmes.’ His pants were rough and deep like sobs. Her hand twitched on his breast. The joint was not working but the musculature still functioned. At that little press he brought her to the table and took her hand fiercely. ‘I will never hurt you,’ she said. Her attention did not waiver from his face. ‘I won’t leave you,’ he said. ‘Please. Please.’ ‘Go.’ He went to the window. For the first time since she could remember, she felt time. It was a current. It pressed. The half light outside was golden and dimming; in his thin face and soft hair, the arch of his narrow nostrils and the flat line of his sensitive mouth, she saw the face of memory. His eyes went to her once more and there was more than color in them. There was life.
At A Loss
| Chelsey Clammer
When a nineteen year old woman climbs five flights of stairs in a parking garage, carrying a cell phone and a plan to jump. When her best friend calls and instructs her to climb back over the railing to safety, and the woman agrees, concedes. When she changes her mind right then, right there on the edge of the ledge, you say, ‘Oh god. .’ And when that nineteen year old woman slips as she tries to swing her body up and over the railing, when she falls down all five stories anyway, you say, ‘Oh god. .’ But what do you say to the dead girl’s best friendSthe young woman who kept her on the phone, who convinced her not to jump. Yes, what can you say to this woman who will forever blame herself because if she hadn’t made her now dead friend stay on the phone, then she wouldn’t have lost her grip and slipped? What to say when you see what the security cameras have to show, their story of how she ran up to her best friend’s body just seconds after it crashed and cracked? What to say about what doesn’t make sense? About a life saving decision that ended in death. About the friend who saved the woman’s life, but didn’t. About how she will have to live with the ghastly image of her fallen friend embedded deep within, haunting her forever. About how she will never again celebrate her own life because the night she found her best friend’s body on the ground, was the night before her 1 9th birthday. What can you say when you see her in the morning, when you hug her tight in hopes of helping her hold some of this impossible grief, of quieting her cries that cast her body into convulsions? When you stand there, arms enveloping an unstoppable quaking, when you swallow your own sobs to stay strong and are certain your voice won’t fissure when you finally speak, what can you say? Happy birthday?
| Amy Fant
Mac stands where the water lips at just his big toe, the sand under his feet like a gritty chest, swelling and then sinking. In the waves, he can nearly feel a heartbeat, but it is haphazard, random. Not like a living thing. Not like his own, that somehow pumps boom and then boom and then boom, even as his hand is there, pressed against the skin, waiting for something different. What was it that Claire said about heart beats? That the moment you think of your own, it quickens 1 /8 of a second? As if the very thought of yourself could scare you. Claire said lots of things, though. Said lots of things that made Mac jealous of her overwhelming capacity to believe in the words that came out of her mouth. Jealous that she didn’t need to investigate it all, to weigh what the words were worth, before letting them loose into a crowd of co workers, over an intimate coffee date with an old friend she hadn’t seen in 20 years, in the backseat of a Honda with Mac’s hand on the inside of her leg. ‘You’re blushing,’ she had said then. Even though he was 30. Even though they had kissed and then some. Had he, in fact, been blushing? How could she see him there in the dark? Mac had removed his hand from her leg, had laughed. He learned to take each word with a grain of salt. It is November and the beach is empty except for Mac and a man with his dog. Mac has seen them before, on mornings like this one where the sky is so grey, it is hard to pinpoint the horizon. The dog waddles close to the break, barking, his brown fur wet with sea mist. Mac waves at them. If it were summer, Mac would have to dodge the beach crowds, even this early in the morning. But it is off season and he likes the beach like this: empty, cold, the caps of the water somehow whiter with salt. The wet sand is over his ankles now. He looks out into the sea and watches a wave until it is upon him. When Mac was young, his grandfather spent a Saturday teaching him how to float. The water was so 24
warm then, like a bath. He remembers the bloat of his grandfather’s large chest bobbing between waves. His body lifting and sinking with each swell, floating majestically, as if the whole of the Atlantic were beneath him. In an hour, they sat up to see not the beach house on the shore, but the large glass houses at the far eastern curve of the island. His grandfather was dead some fifteen years now, Mac figured. Fifteen years through which Mac would take over the house, take morning runs on the beach with the sun always just there over the water, meet Claire, love and divorce her. Claire had left when the house still smelled like salt and mold, when she had stood on the porch and said then that she didn’t love him. She hadn’t flinched, hadn’t blinked, the words static and unremarkable. Mac had watched her mouth like it was a cave, the words coming out of it almost physical, almost like water. The dog and the man are down the shore now, where they are just a blur of legs. Where Claire and Mac used to picnic against the dunes, before they built the Sun n Sand, before the beach was reckless with Spring Breakers. They were newlyweds, Claire’s head already dyed against the early grey of her 40s. A second marriage for her, the sweetness of beginning for him. Of his friends, he was almost the last to marrySeven though he had felt like a child standing at the altar they had erected on the beach for their wedding. Even as Claire’s grey eyes squinted into the sun at him, her new husband. ‘Somehow,’ she had said then, ‘somehow I’ve been blessed to live again.’ And Mac had believed her. Had loved the living again of ClaireSher wicked sense of humor, her love for all things guilt ridden and luxe. Expensive chocolate squares every night, two bottles of red, a skylight for the beach house like she had seen in the magazine. Her need to pay when they were out with their friends. Even the way she had teased him for being simple, for not buying a new shirt in 1 0 yearsSMac had loved it, had sopped up her laughter, knowing not to moralize her love of him, however it came. He learned to love the things around her, too. Found beauty surprising again. On early mornings when they were first married, Claire would see Mac running the beach, wait for him with coffee on the porch of their beach house. And he would bring her gifts: a pair of sunglasses, a glass bottle, cloudy and green as cat’s eye jade, a ring of salt
licked keys. Mac could lay out all the beautiful things the sea had given
him, and never reach an end. A city of trinkets. And Claire would weigh each of them in her hands, trace their edges, cut and smooth from seawater. ‘One man’s trash,’ she’d smile and say, ‘is another man’s trash.’ The sea is around his calves now, his feet buried in the cold shift of sand beneath the water. How many times in his life has he tried to stand here, and how long? Waiting until the water was up to the flesh of his thighs, the waves cresting behind him on some other, new shore. Mac lets the water splash at his knees. All the things he gave Claire, what land were they in now? What soil, what patch of earth that lends itself to digesting their trash? If it had happened slowly, as some of their friends would say laterSa plodded unraveling that they could see from the very beginningSwhy hadn’t Mac seen it? Felt it? Before they were both in their 40s. Before Claire left, and before she came back, too. Before she cleared all of her things out. Before the house started falling apart, like she said it wouldSa plank off the front railing, an erosion on the east wall, a leak in the ceiling. Before she stood on the porch of the beach house without blinking and said she didn’t like the beach, actually, had never liked it. That she had only liked him, and now even that wasn’t true. The cave of her mouth giving and giving. And Mac had felt embarrassed for her, for the way she could say those things. Mac feels the water at the tips of his fingers, hanging by his sides. The man with the dog is back, asking him if he is ok, if he needs help. Mac waves, without turning. The dog is barking, barking. The salt is so thick, he can pinch grains of it between his fingers. Soon, the shore will shallow again and Mac will be standing there in his wrinkled skin, salt still between his fingers. He thinks of Claire, who put herself so far from the ocean the day she left. How she wouldn’t feel sand again ever, probably, if she had a choice. He thinks of his grandfather, of floating. How without knowing it, without feeling the change, a person can end up so much further down the shore than where he started.
| Suzzanna Matthews Amanzio
When they came to take Robert Parker's daughter for surgery, he wasn't ready to let go. He held her hand and kept pace with the nurse and orderly as they wheeled the gurney from her room through the ward. They worked around him, adjusting IVs, reviewing charts, gossiping about co workers as they moved down each long hallway, studded with the sounds of televisions and monitors from patientsâ€™ rooms. All went silent as the elevator doors closed. No one spoke as they descended into the bowels of the hospital, full of corridors and rooms that he couldn't see â€“ not from where they stopped and left him, at a set of double doors that separated what he witnessed from what his daughter experienced. The sedative they'd given her kicked in. Her fingers slipped out of his hold as they pulled her through the doors into the corridor. His empty hand curled tight into a fist. He bought tea from a vending machine and went back to her room to wait. Eight hours. The surgery hadn't even begun yet. Right now they were prepping her, the doctors and anesthesiologists and nurses. There would be more waiting after as well, for her to wake up, for her to recover. He removed his phone from his back pocket and sat down in one of the skinny armed guest chairs to drink the weak tea. He tried to focus on catapulting birds to knock down blithe looking pigs and swiping frogs safely across freeways and rivers. He couldn't look at the bed. The frail strands of hair on the pillow, the blots of iodine on the sheet where the nurse spilled solution when putting in a new IV. The hospital gown she'd been changed out of, forgotten at the foot of bed, streaked in the dried sea
foam pith of the gastric cocktail she hadn't been able to keep down. He turned the chair to face the window. Outside, glass panel buildings loomed over older brick structures, reflecting back the red clay of two hundred
year old brick against a gray sky. In the reflections he traced the vines of dead ivy, working out how they tangled in and out amongst each other clinging to the brick. He wished that this could all be over, that she could be 28
back in their home, in her own room, with the pink ribboned wallpaper she'd picked out for herself when she'd been small enough to carry on his shoulders. Where the ballet shoes, signed by Sylvie Guillem in curling script, , hung on the wall above her bed. Sylvie's father, she always liked to remind him, was a mechanic too. The hospital room was painted in a filmy yellow, which he supposed was meant to be cheery, but instead seemed to coat the walls in some xanthous excreta, like algae. The only other color in the room came in on the faces of cards and bouquets of flowers that took up space on all the free surfaces – the windowsill, the rolling tray table and nightstand – and he hated them. He hated the , the , the , and the worst one he'd seen yet, a sunny card with a smiling white cloud shooting a rainbow from its rear that read . He hated the flowers too, the stunted shapes cut to fit tabletop vases, the ordinariness of pale carnations. On stage she would have received long stemmed roses, or bundles of Viscara and Stargazers. He hated that co workers, neighbors, and his ever distant friends had sent these cursory things, signed their names and went on with their lives. He rationalized that they meant well, but underneath he knew what they were thinking: . Then there were the dancers, the girls from his daughter's ballet company, thin doe eyed creatures, no older than sixteen, that visited in trios and fours, all legs and arms and nervous laughter. They clustered together feet away from the bed – as though, if they were to get too close, they'd somehow get sick. The way that they looked at his daughter, the way that they looked at each other, panning up and down, barely concealing the fact that outside these hospital walls they were glad of one less in the pool of competition. When she first got sick Robert felt he was somehow to blame. That her illness was some sort of retribution, or karma – something which occurred in his early life and had sealed her fate. When he was an infant, his mother, part Passamaquoddy Indian, brought him to a tribal spirit healer. He had been born with common enough ailments, jaundiced and colicky, but his young mother saw his yellow skin and crying as signs of imminent death. The healer's words to her had been to let the waters run hot and cold, , that these things would pass through him, , like rivers run to the sea. His mother hadn't cared for those answers, to let things run their course. In panicked
desperation she disregarded the warning, that what was not allowed to pass through would cycle back, harbored by spirits to manifest elsewhere. She mixed tinctures, swathed him in oils and kept a poultice pressed to his chest. For good measure she'd sat him beneath the faucet in an empty tub, alternating the water between hot and cold, her interpretation of the healer's words. Days later, his ailments cleared. His sallow cheeks picked up color, his constant crying stopped, as if he’d never been ill. His mother spent the rest of his infancy singing songs over him to placate retributive spirits. If health and illness were measured states that could be used up or portioned out, passed on from one person to another, lineal down a family – if his mother had just left him, let things run their natural course, maybe his daughter would have remained healthy. He knew these thoughts were irrational, he didn’t put much stock in the beliefs he’d grown up around, but it kept nagging at him – after that bout of childhood maladies, he had rarely been sick a day in his life. He took a sip of tea from his cup. The bag had torn open, bits of leaf clung to the roof of his mouth and lay bitter on his tongue. He set the cup by his feet, pocketed his phone and tried to rest. He teetered in and out of wakefulness, falling asleep with his elbow on the armrest of the chair, his head propped up on his hand. ‘Mr. Parker?’ It was the same charge nurse from earlier that morning. She was crouched on the floor wiping up amber colored liquid. Tea. He had kicked the cup over in his sleep. ‘Mr. Parker. Go out, get a cup of coffee, some real food.’ He glanced at the clock. It was still morning. It wasn't even two hours into the surgery. She continued talking. Something about her voice made him sit up straight. ‘You look exhausted…’ Robert ran a hand through his graying hair then brushed at the wrinkles that had gathered on his shirt. ‘I can see about getting a rollaway bed in here, but it's going to be a while. Go out get some air. Besides, they're sending someone up to clean the room so you'll get booted out anyhow.’ The charge nurse, the desk nurse, the one male nurse ten years his junior that prefaced almost everything he said to Robert with , all assured him that he would be called if anything was needed of him. There was nothing he could do until his daughter was out of surgery and brought to the ICU. . But he was. Even though he'd been through all of this 30
before, the surgeries, the hospital stays – how could someone get familiar? He had no fluency in any of it. Each time the pains were just as sharp, and the unknown outcomes just as terrifying. And the feeling of helplessness, uselessness – he was drowning in it. He could only stand by and watch as his daughter's body became a terrene of scars, each one a marker, each a point in time when she was ill. It was in the spaces between each raw incision that she lived her life. In that in between time he could almost forget she wasn't healthy. But it was foolish, like living in a tidal zone and pushing the persistent danger of the looming waves from your mind. He was terrified. Of all the countless surgeries she’d survived, this one contained the most possibility for complications. There was a weakening of the tissues in her heart. What the doctor had called a dysfunction in the strength layer of the aorta. A type B Dissection. The cardiologist had drawn it on a piece of paper. A heart rendered flat in thin pen strokes. The weak point was at the end of the aortic arch, where blood loops around and heads downward to supply oxygen to the abdomen and legs. . Robert understood. Her body was failing her, the act of living killing her. He glanced at his phone. Half the time he couldn't keep track of whether it was night or day. In movies, people waited out these huge quantities of time in the most uncomfortable looking, thinly padded vinyl chairs – revenants of something from the Eighties – for doctors to emerge with news. They never looked hunched, never rubbed at sore muscles, having to shift into various positions of discomfort. There was always someone there to offer a cup of coffee, or to lay a consoling hand on the shoulder. It made Robert angry. Whoever wrote those scripts had never had to spend weeks at a time waiting by a hospital bed, in corridors, outside of labs, or sleeping in chairs – forgetting to eat for days on end. Not knowing what to do with yourself, not knowing what was happening – with no one coming to tell you anything. They'd never had to struggle with theguilthefelteachtimehewenthome,leavingherbehind. He pulled his coat around him and clenched his fists within the pockets. Stepping out onto the sidewalk, he moved along with the crowds of people, not caring in what direction he was going. He just needed to move. Crossing the threshold of the hospital's automatic doors
was like coming up for air. His helplessness was suffocating. It was like viewing everything from behind glass. He watched his daughter close her eyes in pain as doctors and nurses carried out various treatments. He couldn’t reach out as her hands gripped at nothing and she cried out for him. And when he sat by her bedside, his reassurances that everything would be okay waned, his voice drowned out as she turned up the volume on the television. He couldn't stop what was happening. It had to be done. , and this was another reason for the guilt he carried. Robert had grown up unable to keep still, he was restless. And in his small town he kept true to what was expected of him, for all the families which he saw as whole and un hemmed by lack of money or possibility, saw him as just another young man from off the reservation who wore the label of troublemaker. He was at once aimless and driven. He had no plans or focus, just a feeling that would swell up within him: that he had to do something. Something he had no words for, that he translated into cutting school, smoking pot, hot wiring his uncle’s cars and driving through the muddy roads of backwoods Maine. His mother had put up dams at every turn in his life to try and contain him. He thought he had broken free when he quit school and moved off the res to the RV park with an older woman he’d called his girlfriend. But his mother and uncles had put an end to that, dragging him back home. He thought he’d pulled away when he left Warren and hitched to Portland. But he was caught selling drugs and did time at the state prison, not far from the house where he had lived with his mother. He now thought back with shame to that time before jail, about all the kids he'd sold to. Some of them not much younger than his daughter was now. At that point in his life he never slowed down enough to notice, but something in him tempered as, day after day, from the prison yard he could trace in the distance the same vein of muddy road he’d driven on, over and over again, hoping he’d end up free. In confinement he learned to fix cars, carefully tending to motors as if he could intuit what was wrong. His daughter was nothing like how he used to be, and she wasn't much like her mother either, who had a rebellious streak. He’d met Chloe in Portland, another runaway from further north like him. But she never stopped running. Countless times she left Robert, took off to cities further south – Nashua, Worcester, Lowell – returning, often drunk or 32
high, when she needed money or had worn out her welcome at whatever place she had holed up in. She had run off to Boston, right after they found out she was pregnant – Robert following in her wake to bring her back to Portland. Hannah had been born three months into his sentence. It was eight months before Robert held his daughter for the first time – a year before he finished his sentence, and two years before he could take custody. Chloe had abandoned her, left her in the care of her own mother and stepfather, the people that she’d run away from, that she’d once told him were incapable of caring, and left. Robert only found out because her stepfather had come to his mother demanding money. His mother had told him, . His mother was right. The last time Chloe had seen Hannah was on her eighth birthday, six years ago, before anyone knew she was sick. Showing up at the door with an ill wrapped gift and leaving with a plea for money. At the time, she had been the one that looked sick. Her auburn hair had thinned, her blue eyes had grayed. It was the drinking and, Robert suspected, heavier drugs that were responsible. No traces of her mother's former looks shaded their daughter's features. She was a plain, pale girl with mousy brown hair and teeth that showed crooked when she smiled. What she had inherited from her mother, from him, was a call to move. But while it left him and her mother restless, she had channeled it into a talent with coursing ferocity and sweeping grace. Robert was amazed. She had taken him, them, from the rough of the woods to mirrored dance studios and season seats at the Ballet. It was her dream, her calling, to dance. On stage, music flowed through her, washed over her – she sank into it, floated over it. Her movements were precise, yet the control seemed to come not from her but from something beyond her. She had ignored the signs when she first started feeling ill. She tried to shake it off. Initially it was a sore hip, then icing her knees after classes and rehearsals, then not being able to control her legs – they had caved in under her during a performance. Then came the diagnosis. Mixed connective tissue disease, MCTD, which sounded to Robert like an acronym for city transit. It wasn't just one, but a battle fleet of autoimmune disorders. Her body was
attacking itself. Her joints would cease to function. Her muscles would grow weak, and tissues – skin, lungs, kidneys and heart – would harden. The prognosis, her life expectancy, as her doctors had coldly put it, once the disease began to progress was ten years. She had just turned thirteen. While he may not have been to blame for her illness, Robert was responsible for her being in the hospital. For the last five years, surgery after surgery, even when they didn't work, when he could see that she was in pain, he sent her back. When the light in her face grayed, when her eyes darkened so that he could no longer see what emotions lay behind them, he sent her back. To the doctors, the centers, physical therapists and surgeons. He couldn’t bear to lose her. When he could no longer afford the medical bills, he returned to dealing drugs. Prescription drugs this time, a course in life he never thought he’d need to risk again. Cashing in on the haphazard regulations of pharmaceutical trade on reservations, he bought the goods in Canada and transported them in through tribal lands. Back home, where he and his two uncles set up an operation to sell them online. He tried to comfort himself in the fact that he was helping people, people in need, and that to that point, no Indian operated web pharm had been targeted or prosecuted. But, he was putting his family at risk, and he was ashamed that the hope he held for his daughter was that selfish. He pulled his coat tight around his neck. March afternoons were still icy and he was walking directly into a cold wind coming up off the harbor. He fell in flow with the stream of tourists and school children walking part of the Freedom Trail. He was led to the harbor, where he ended up following them into the aquarium. He found himself staring into the blue water of the jellyfish exhibit. He near held his breath watching as they pulled in water and pushed it out, pumping. They moved like so many beating hearts, but they had no blood flowing through them, no heart or brain or lungs. In the ocean, they had no control over where they drifted, their movements were governed by the flow of the water surrounding them. . She had said. Laying her hand over his. He remembered sitting on the edge of the living room sofa, where she lay propped up by pillows. . 34
He remembered sliding to the ground in a surge of tears that made his body shake. She reached out and took his hand, holding so tight it must have taken all her strength. Her voice went soft. . She fell asleep still holding his hand. In appointments she sat facing forward, hands in her lap, never looking at Robert as he conferenced with her doctors, discussing treatment plans and options as if her body was something separate from her. But in the last appointment, while discussing the procedure, the risks of the heart transplant, she had not been silent. . The words pressed against his thoughts, cut through him in a sharp stab of guilt. When sheâ€™d spoken them, her doctor removed his glasses, looking up from the papers splayed across his desk. Her voice sounded strong. Too loud in the small space where they sat. . The doctor leaned forward. At sixteen she couldn't make her own medical decisions, but in the state of Massachusetts, a minor could plead their case to a judge and if convinced that they were able to fully understand the outcome of their actions, they could be granted the right to refuse treatment. Robert had never felt so cold. His lips curled up over his teeth. Locking eyes with the doctor he forced the words. . The crowd of people pushed him through to an open tank exhibit. He read the description inscribed on the backdrop, a mural of a beach scene with bright colored shells and yellow sand. . Small children pressed against the barrier, pointing to a crab moving across the sand. Robert looked over them, searching for the hidden life among the rock and grass. To survive, the pipefish and seahorses must anchor themselves to the grass. In the shallows, the small creatures swayed within the clusters of dancing grass. They did not seem equipped for the world they lived in. To Robert they did not look strong enough to control their movements in the current â€“ to survive the open coastal waters. In his mind he saw his daughter let go of the hope of being able to dance again. She had let go, and he could not. All he ever wanted was for her to be free. To be able to do anything she dreamed, to
be rewarded for the things she'd fought hard for. And she fought and was losing and he took control. He wouldn’t let her stop fighting, and there was nothing, no reward, no soothe, no cure. No way back to what she was. Not paying attention, Robert had found his way to the heart of the aquarium, which was built around a giant central tank, . People stood around it, silhouetted by the blue glow, watching the thousands of living things circling behind glass. Up close, he could hear children counting all the different fish – hands pressed against the tank. All Robert could count were the many palm prints left upon the glass. When his daughter was no longer able to dance, she would spend hours listening to music, Giselle, La Bayadere, Coppelia, all her favorite ballets, lying on the sofa with her eyes closed. Robert could almost see movement pulsing through her. The downy hair on her arms would rise, a current moved through her – though she lay still, her muscles seemed to lift. But she was trapped, in a body that wasn't free to move. . She had said. . And he cried. He cried knowing that all the love he had for her, all the hope held onto, was cruel. But he couldn’t let go. Robert worked his way back through the crowds, back out into the cold, to a small bit of shoreline beside the pier. He stood looking out beyond the harbor, out to the grey horizon where the water drove on beyond him. Waves pulled back and rushed forth over the tips of his shoes. He remembered his mother's passing. He had returned home after he'd been released. He had walked to the house from the bus stop where he’d been left. As he walked up the muddy lane, he heard a song rising out of an open window. He recognized men and women from the reservation moving about the yard, in and out of the house. The day he arrived the shaman had been summoned, but not to attempt a cure. It was their tradition that when a dying person resigned themselves to their fate, they were already considered dead and they were mourned in song and surrounded by hands. He had stroked his mother's hair, lay his hand over hers while he spoke his regrets of the things he'd done. Though she could not speak, the shaman told him her spirit had forgiven him, and asked only for forgiveness from him. He held her hand tight. He had been holding her hand when she let go of life. And everything was still and at peace. Robert reached for his phone. Three hours left before his daughter would be brought back from surgery. He would go back, trace his 36
way up the same streets, walk through the hospital doors â€“ he would sit there and try to appear composed while a storm of anger, of sadness and desperation moved inside him.
In Medias Res-On the Road in the Deep South, Destination: Katrina | Louis Gallo
We have forgotten to examine our bodies for new moles, moles turning crusty or black, skin tags, suspicious pustules. Except for Lea’s red patch. It looks better, now carmine rather than scarlet, no red streaks. She likes the phosphorescent band aids and they restrict her scratching. She told Renee that band aids made her feel peaceful. A peaceful Lea is cause for rejoicing. Before we left for Florida she had worked herself into quite a state over product recalls. In a former life Lea was a Nordic berserker. I steer clear of such internet sites, figuring, sooner or later, I’ll wind up on the recall list myself. Lea had also found a site that, once you typed in some data, predicted your age at death. The site gave her eighty six years, as she morosely informed Renee. ‘That’s not bad, Lea,’ Renee said. ‘Eighty six is lucky. ‘But I’m already thirteen!’ Lea protested. I had returned to the room with food and drink but didn’t have the heart to jiggle Renee and the girls out of what looked like delicious comas rather than sleep. Our circadian rhythms are shot. I set the food on the table, dove onto the living room couch and crashed. I dreamed first of an almond floating in mid air. The almond turned into a bone, then a ripe peach with a moon blue aura. Snippets of dreams, Polaroids, random bytes, residue. Not the real thing. The real thing comes a bit later, eases in like a glacier heading for the open sea. I’m squatting in a dim chapel, opening a small, dust free safe, combination 6 66 666. Gently, I remove the sole object wrapped in royal purple velvet: Smith & Wesson .38 special +P, model 1 0, of blue carbon steel finish, six rounds, four inch barrel. The Wizard of Northumbria, draped in vestments decorated with hand stitched runes and depictions of the Ace of Cups, removes the Grail from its bejeweled chest. A ruby studded goblet awaiting Galahad, who will seize it and ascend to heaven. 38
Moses removes the Covenant from its Ark for an airing. Unloaded, the pistol weighs thirty six ounces, and its cartridges can penetrate three, maybe four inches of bodily tissue. I grip Uncle Mike’s boot, the handle, find myself seated at a 1 930s art deco kitchen table, atop which burn dozens of sandalwood candles. Two tins of solvents, one to my right, Hoppe’s bore cleaner, the other, on the left, gun oil. After brushing the barrel and each chamber of the cylinder with fine cloth attached to the cleaning rod, I wipe the body with a light coat of the Hoppe’s, a smell one remembers to the grave. Magdalene, clad in hood and flowing muslin, anoints the feet of the Savior with sweet unguents. Ready for Predator, for the Plague, for Katrina, Extra
terrestrials and Red Streaks, grandiose, megalomaniacal I waste the enemy
six rounds, thirty rounds, a hundred rounds, a million. I am our president, in cowpoke jeans, boots, spurs, flannel shirt and ten gallon hat. I’m Hopalong. Wild Bill. Marshall Dillon. ‘No cut and run!’ I scream, firing madly at the cosmos, ‘No cut and run!’ How often in our attempts to reach Christ do we step into the hooves of Lucifer? Jesus is a revolver. In the end it’s a squib load, a defective cartridge lodged in the bore. I cock the hammer for one last shot, pull the trigger. The gun explodes its shrapnel flying back into my face. You’re asleep but know that someone hovers beside you, watching you. Some primitive seventh or eighth sense, a legacy from the Paleolithic. My eyes click open as do the eyes of the dead in horror movies. ‘Daddy, it’s ten thirty seven!’ Lea scolds. ‘You were supposed to wake us up. How can we go to the beach if we have to pack and load the car?’ She’s already dressed but has slipped on her t shirt inside out. The lobby food is now soggy and/or wilted. I didn’t even bother to eat the sausage biscuit. Murmurs and shuffles from the master bedroom
Renee and Bee rising for the day. Still not enough sleep for any of us, and surely everyone will be starving. Our refrigerator bulges with food, much of which we will leave behind for the condo owners, Timothy and Tom, the Two T’s, but eating takes time. Lea’s right. How can we squeeze in even a smidgen of beach?
But I’m so glad to see her bright little face after that wretched doomsday of a dream. ‘C’mere, you,’ I say. ‘Give your Da a big hug.’ But she’s not in the mood; she’s worried about the beach; she keeps strict tabs on routine. But I am worried too, about the red, chafed skin on her arm. ‘Can I see the red spot?’ No I can’t. She’s one tracked at the moment. ‘I want to get in those waves, Da,’ she pouts. The first time we brought Lea here, the waves she now loves terrified her. She could hardly walk but scampered away screaming as the suds rolled in. Now she says when she grows up she’s moving to Destin. Bee wants to move to New Hampshire or Vermont, the very names of which chill my bones. Bee, our youngest daughter, loves snow, ice, cold weather and cozy fires. Such geographic polarities, and yet the two sisters can’t live without each other. I figure they’ll wind up compromising, which means staying put in the Blue Ridge, a kind of Mason Dixon deal. I stagger over to the glass doors of the balcony, part the curtains. Something’s going on outside, commotion, people rushing about, lifeguards waving their hands and a black flag flapping on the pole. Outside, a cacophony of shouts, sirens, megaphone feedback and static, shrieks, unsettled voices, the din of panic. ‘Lea,’ I cry, ‘get your mama! Something’s happening. No beach anyway. There’s a black flag!’ ‘What, Daddy? What?’ ‘Just get Mama!’ She rushes for the bedroom and soon Renee and Bee come flying out, half dressed, with bathing suits on underneath. We’re all out on the balcony now. ‘What?’ Renee asks, still groggy and heavy lidded. ‘It’s pandemonium. I don’t know. Black flags up and down the beach.’ Heavy winds howl through the recesses of the balconies. The battered palm that rises to our level takes another beating. Can’t make out any words rising from the crowds gathered down on the sand, but the collective tone rings with alarm. ‘A hurricane!’ Lea cries. ‘No, no,’ Renee says, ‘we would have heard about it on the 40
Three years ago a pugnacious tropical storm, Bill or Bob or whatever, drove us straight off this beach. The entire building swayed and our ceilings leaked in torrents. We threw luggage into the car and split for the highway, slashed by piercing, forty five degree nails of rain. The highway flooded almost instantly, and traffic crept along at ten miles an hour. I pulled into Tom Thumb, but the pump was defective; when I removed the nozzle from our tank, gasoline spewed all over my face and clothes. Renee wiped me off with beach towels and I changed clothes, but the car’s interior reeked fumes all the way to New Orleans. We developed low grade but nasty headaches. Renee drove the first fifty or so miles because my eyes burned and I had to saturate them with a steady trickle of artificial tears. But we did, if only barely, beat the storm to that narrow bridge across Pensacola Bay. A sudden knock on the door. Our family is wary of any sudden knocks on any door, and back home we usually ignore them. A decade ago in this very condo, such a knock, along with screaming fire alarms, heralded the evacuation of every vacationer out into the parking lot in pajamas. Practically all night on the macadam. Lea and Bee were just babies. But Lea remembers. Some college students had the bright idea of setting up a barbecue pit in their room; they forgot about the shish kebobs, and every vent soon issued festoons of smoke. No injuries, no fire, but I had barely enough time to stuff cash into my pocket and loop the Pentax K
1 000 strap around my neck. The very next year we were run out by an invasion of jellyfish. And who can forget the fire ants? On one trip every time Bee stepped out of the car, her sandaled foot sank into another soft hill of the ferocious insects. We coated her inflamed skin with layer after layer of Benadryl ointment and Dr. Tichenor’s. We now laugh about it, refer to the trip as The Time When Bee’s Feet De Feated Her. But it was no luau, I tell you. Perhaps we should consider relocating our vacations. Alas, we’re addicted to the white, Appalachian, rose quartzed sand. I’ve considered shoveling it into barrels and transporting it home, along with the jugs of the Gulf. Such sand cannot be bought at Home Depot. Another series of raps on the door. Renee is disgruntled. ‘Who can that be? Are they kicking
us out already?’ handle.
I forgot to hang the DO NOT DISTURB on the outside
I take my time moseying over, stop for a swig of my leftover coffee from yesterday, wipe some dust from the video camera, whistle a little Sousa. Renee and the girls remain on the balcony, assaying the situation. The knocks come fewer and weaker than before. I open cautiously to avoid the swoosh, prepare the serious, no nonsense John Wayne face. No one. But down the corridor a ways the inevitable maid’s cart loaded with white bath towels, toilet paper, Kleenex, Windex, Comet, cleaning fluids, dust mops, light bulbs, equipment. Getting ready for the new tenants. I’ve noticed that hotel maids in Florida are now all blond, blue eyed Russian girls. So are the clerks in practically every store. Welcome to Moscow. Whither the usual Hispanics? Hard to keep up with the constant ethnic shifts and displacements these days. ‘I’m going down to get one of those luggage carts,’ I cry back to Renee. ‘Wait much longer there won’t be any left.’ Maybe I’ll also find a cup of hot java in the lobby. I’m trying to shake those portions of the dream sticking to my memory molecules like glue. I feel polluted, evil. I have become the enemy. My pitchfork is bigger than your pitchfork. Have Gun, Will Travel. This is not me. I detest both weapons of mass and minimal destruction. Dread has metamorphosed me into something unspeakable. In a former life I was Hitler. After age thirty, we lose thousands of brain cells a day. How many do we have to lose? Like dying Persians how many left to kill before only one left standing? We have not shredded all of our Visa, MasterCard and American Express statements. We have not checked our credit reports since the turn of the millennium. I’m headed for the luggage rack section of the lobby. Much hubbub, people rushing in and out, cops, medical types, reporters. There’s an old man sitting on a concrete bench just outside the entrance doorway. He wears a time warped straw hat and seersucker suit, an archetypal coastal senior with cloudy wisps of hair floating with the zephyrs. 42
I grab one of the carts, the last one, and push it through the
‘What’s all the commotion?’ I ask the ancient one, transparent oxygen tubes clipped to his nostrils. The machine rests under the bench. ‘Eh?’ he cups his ear. ‘What’s going on?’ I repeat, louder. ‘All the frenzy, the black flags.’ ‘Oh, it’s just terrible,’ he slurs his words slightly, ‘just terrible.’ I’m waiting. Got to humor oldsters they like dragging it out. Come to think, so do I. ‘Just terrible,’ he repeats. ‘What happened?’ ‘Little girl . . . only thirteen . . . bitten in two by a shark. Don’t know what kind of shark. Cell phone signals screwing them up, you know. Out on a surfboard. Exactly where I surfed yesterday.’ The man looks not a day under ninety. Surfing? With a tank of oxygen? I notice the Rumi volume poking out of his jacket pocket. ‘Bitten in two?’ ‘Zoomed up from below. Snap. She’s dead. Just like that.’ He tries to snap his fingers but they just sort of melt together. ‘Poor child. Only thirteen.’ ‘Thank you,’ I say and return inside, roll my cart toward the elevator. So Renee was right. That shadow she saw in the water yesterday. I didn’t even believe in sharks. I’ll never hear the end of it, so maybe I shouldn’t tell her. Not an option. Must tell her. It’ll be all over the news. But still, the odds, what are the odds? That poor, poor child. It could have been Bee or Lea or even yours truly. Maybe Renee, but she rarely gets into the water these days. The sea, our primordial origin, has turned against us or maybe it turned against us the moment we forsook our gills for terra incognita. Back in the room Renee and the girls are just about ready to roll. Lea and Bee pivot on the edge of the bed watching MTV. Shakira, the Latin American bombshell, belts out ‘I’ll be Fine’ from her husky Colombian vocal cords. Shakira, not even five feet tall, an IQ of 1 80. And so beautiful your eyes spasm. Some people have all the luck. Not long ago,
back home, I joined her official Fan Club. Now I get e mails from Shakira. Nothing personal of course, just the mass spam advertising her latest concerts and albums. The girls think it’s cool. ‘Just about done?’ I ask Renee, who scans the place for anything we might have forgotten to pack. We always forget something. One year Lea forgot a volume of her epic journal and screeched all the way from Pensacola to Mobile. Another time I forgot my contacts and had to rely upon a twelve year old pair of glasses. Amazing how they weaken as the years aggrandize. When good diopters go bad. ‘I think so,’ Renee says. ‘I’ve looked everywhere twice.’ ‘What about Bun?’ Bun, a silly little stuffed rabbit Bee has cherished practically since birth. We go nowhere without Bun. Bun has become the most sacred article in our household. We may all wind up praying to Bun, begging Bun’s forgiveness. ‘I have Bun,’ Bee says, still staring at Shakira. ‘Did you find out what happened?’ Renee asks. Might as well out with it, face the music. ‘Shark attack,’ I say while throwing a garment bag onto the carrier. ‘What, Daddy?’ Bee and Lea ask in unison. Now I have their attention. ‘I told you,’ Renee says. ‘I figured I’d hear that.’ ‘Really?’ the girls forsake MTV altogether. ‘Did somebody get hurt?’ ‘It’s pretty gruesome. But you have to know. A young girl, your age Lea, was surfing, way too far out I’d say. A shark came up from below, and . . . well, it killed her. Right there in the water where we were fooling around. She was probably lying on the board and the shark mistook her dangling arms and legs for prey.’ Both Renee and the girls remain speechless for a moment. ‘Your mother was right. There was a shark. She saw it. That gray shadow.’ ‘We gotta get out of here,’ is all Renee says. ‘I’m still not afraid of sharks,” Lea says. Bee doesn’t speak. No doubt my words swirl in her teeming, absorbent mind. She clutches Bun all the tighter. Bun has lost an eye somewhere along the trail. 44
Why do I feel guilty? Does guilt now outpace remorse, grief, sadness and all the other black states of mind? What a way to die. But then, we can say as much for any mode of dying. Why did only Elijah luck out with the fiery chariot? And Galahad without it? ‘It’s over, girls, no more beach for a while. Let’s finish packing and hit the road. Maybe next year.’ Now Lea’s crying. ‘Already! We just got here!’ Renee embraces her, then Bee, then I embrace her. We all comfort her in a tight, silent hug. Words, as usual, have less meaning than a spine of fish bones poking out of the sand. We don’t surf but we did float and bob on a rubberized board I bought at Wing’s; shark lurking, all the while, right there. So close, so invisible. We gather still more stuff into our arms and take one last look outside. A small prop plane cruises across the Gulf, an advertising banner attached to its tail: . counsels us to sock it to stress by tuning into a Spanish language soap opera on cable and make up the dialogue; to read a dictionary upside down and look for secret messages; to craft fake pizza wedges out of Play Doh; to stare at people through the tines of a fork and pretend they’re in jail. Who needs Freud? One and a half million Americans are damaged or killed per year by faulty prescription medications. Medical and surgical mistakes kill up to another one hundred thousand per year. A piddling eighteen thousand die of heart attacks. Sharks? A mere handful, if that. Moral: don’t get screwed, have a heart attack. We’re approaching Mobile, also ravaged by Katrina, though it looks the same as always from the interstate. Mile upon mile of bridges over water, then that tunnel dipping under the bay and all the exits for Dauphin Island, which we’ve heard is totally wrecked again. Its original Indian name as translated by Bienville, founder of New Orleans, and his brother, Iberville, was Massacre Island because of the mounds upon mounds of skeletons found there, atrocities committed by the natives
themselves, not the whites, for a change. The place has been wiped out so many times, hard to believe anyone is fool enough to rebuild. But they always do. Lea and Bee are watching a movie on our portable DVD. Something with Lindsey Lohan about a human Volkswagen named Herbie , a sad, cute little beetle. Renee has propped her knees on the dash and gazes at the passing road signs. Neither of us like to travel, especially on road trips, but these summer excursions are crucial for our psychic well
being, especially Lea’s, this despite hurricanes, evacuations, jellyfish, fire ants and shark attacks. In Pascagoula we begin to notice the mangled trees and foliage. Pascagoula was battered, according to reports, but again, all looks well from the interstate. We usually stop here at an endless mall/complex for the massive pet store and T. J. Maxx and also to take a food break. I’m looking for the shopping center with its red tiled roofs, but can’t find it. Did it blow away? Farewell, Pascagoula. Trees lining the interstate are skeletons and stumps of their former selves, those still standing. Some have lost half, some all, of their limbs, many down altogether, strewn across each other in eerie zigzags. No green either, just faded straw like colors blending with a sad, uniform gray. ‘Doesn’t look good, Paw,’ Renee sighs, though Renee is much better at bottling her emotions than I. For me Pascagoula is neighboring territory, the past, part of my geographic childhood, a childhood that Katrina may have driven into the collective nostalgia of survivors. I reach down to touch the Rumi paperback at my side, between my thigh and the console for storing CDs. I have not read a word of Rumi but sense an increasing urgency. Next coffee stop, maybe. ‘Nature here is dead,’ I say. One can hardly elaborate upon the sweeping impact of what lies bleakly before one’s eyes. I’m thinking of a poem I once read as a Tulane undergrad, ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,’ about a ruined knight making his way through scorched earth toward some squat, ugly stump of a tower, then blowing his horn in paltry triumph at having reached his destination, a place where no one wants to be. 46
Biloxi is just a stone’s throw down the road. We’re hungry and I figure we can find a Wendy’s or something in the town. After all, it’s ten months since Katrina cracked her whip. We tend to believe a president who vows to restore a crippled portion of his own nation. The exit doesn’t look promising. The closer we come to civilization, the less real it seems. One wrecked building after another. Service stations, restaurants, houses, motels; ditto on the trees, except worse, now, close up. Those who compare the aftermath of Katrina with Hiroshima are right on the mark except for the prism of mold coating every surface. Lea works the Pentax, Renee the cam cord, trying to take it all in. No side street on this exit, now Ferguson Road, can be accessed. Mound upon mound of tree parts, jagged concrete slabs, parts of walls, window casings, chimney remains, corroded metal and plastic pipes, every conceivable household fixture, shattered furniture, all jamming the roads. And no traffic. Our X Terra, a lone vehicle in the territory, a Mars rover exploring the dead planet. A few lone souls off in the distance, here and there, poking at debris with sticks. Something funny about them. They move slowly, erratically, like zombies. Not one traffic light left standing at the junction to Highway 90, which borders the Gulf, no signs of electricity. Eeeny meeny . . . we turn left. The sight is staggering. Shells of buildings, casinos, shafts of daylight breaking through wall less husks. The steel beams of one casino no longer rise; they curve precipitously into the Gulf, itself littered with junk rising to the surface. An upturned, uprooted tree sways in the water, one of the ancient live oaks, judging by its trunk and reptilian bark. Every structure in total ruin. Bits and pieces of buildings, lives. I spot the Wendy’s a pile of sticks on a concrete slab, itself dislodged from the earth. No functioning service stations, no restaurants. Nothing now except historic remains. Pompeii without the lava. Bones of freshly killed dinosaurs. The way it must have looked back then. We soon spot one or two sight seeing cars, a few men working bull dozers and fork lifts powered by generators. Then Highway 90, a few blocks down, abruptly ends, a buckled, cracked, crumbled mess. No choice but to U turn and head in the other direction. The other direction lasts for maybe half a mile then once more the highway ceases to exist. What’s left of Biloxi is about a three
mile span on the Gulf. NOTHING is fixed, nothing repaired, nothing working. This stretch of road contains the carcasses of many an historic
mansion, ante bellum jewels, including Beauvoir, the abode of Jeff Davis. It’s boarded up, fragmented, patched here and there, many of the adjoining edifices wiped off the face of the earth. I will read no more about Davis; my interest, my curiosity, now seems morbid. We U turn again and spot a ragged group of worshipers on the beach, some homeless congregation probably, singing hymns around a bonfire on the cluttered, dirty beach. Faithful, happy Christians. One of the few signs of life. Suddenly I’m hyperventilating and must pull over to the side of the road to breathe deeply. Hundreds of shrimp boats heaped in a splintered jumble, some of the hulls washed up on the sand itself. ‘Ok, Marcus?’ Renee asks, patting my shoulder, rubbing my neck. ‘I don’t think so,’ I gasp. ‘Never seen anything like this in my life.’ Bee and Lea have not said a word since we turned onto 90. ‘Waveland, just a little to the west, is utterly gone. But Biloxi. Another stomping ground for us as kids. My dad and grandpa took me to a hamfest here once, near the lighthouse, and I won the drawing for first prize: a leather suitcase. The only thing I’ve ever won in my life. We used to swim here, play on the sand, tour the plantations. Where is everybody? Where are the people?’ ‘I simply can’t grasp it all,’ Renee says. ‘I’m looking but don’t really see it. How can anyone see it? I know it means more to you than me and the girls, but still . . . it’s frightful. What power. I read they had a thirty foot surge here. Remember that casino back there we visited a few years ago just to check it out?’ ‘We’re starving, Da,’ groan wee voices from the back seat. ‘Me too,” I say, “but, look, there’s nothing here. A monster came through. Not even voltage left. We’ll head back to the interstate and find something. I hope.’ That thirty footer leveled up to three miles inland, according to reports. We’ve witnessed maybe an overall inch of it. Where are the natives? Who can live here now? Not much to say about our last leg toward New Orleans except, again, that trees and foliage along the way didn’t stand a chance. 48
Only dwarfed stumps and crabgrass that look doused with sulfuric acid. Ten months later, ten months. How many years will it take to repopulate the trees? Katrina, a shark charging out of the sea, bit them all in two. On one of our first glorious days in the water back in Destin, I had stupidly, out of habit, stuffed some cash into my bathing trunk pockets. Renee and Bee sat on the shore as I led Lea out into the crashing waves. ‘Da!’ she cried at one point, knocked over, spitting out a mouthful of salt water. She pointed. There they were, my bills, a few twenties, even a fifty, floating toward South America. I could only laugh. Slimy seaweed had replaced the lucre in my pockets. It could be that my money has wound up in the belly of a shark. Maybe they’re pissed that we massacre them for their oil, the key ingredient in Preparation H. We need food and bathrooms. About ten miles down I 1 0 we spot a functioning Stuckey’s, one of the last of its kind no doubt. In the old days nothing but Stuckey’s from Louisiana to Florida, this even before Holiday Inns and Howard Johnson, when we lodged in dumpy little joints with names like Alamo Plaza and St. Francis Courts. Every now and then you still come across the remains of these morose, squalid motels. There’s even one in the Blue Ridge on old Highway 1 1 converted into a landscaping stone and rock business. So I have fond nostalgia for Stuckey’s despite my hatred of the place. All those gooey pecan rolls and jars of preserves and the infinite flavors of salt water taffy. Lots of craft like trinkets for sale, macramé, wooden signs with words like ‘Love’ and ‘Ahoy’ burned into them, carved wooden numbers to tack onto the homestead’s door, wooden key chains, statuettes of angels and pixies, glass balls with winter scenes (Vermont!) and floating styrofoam pellets, license plates and bumper stickers reading REBEL or ROAD HOG or JESUS LOVES YOU. Jesus is a revolver. But clean bathrooms, what one won’t do for Windex ed spigots and porcelain. And a lonely little dinette area featuring milk shakes thick as texture paint, oily burgers, hot dogs. Lea can eat the plain dogs or burgers, but not the buns because the buns always contain milk. We’re all feasting away on junk food and she’s stuck with a grilled wiener and orange juice. How many times have Renee or I or both of us at once cradled Lea in our arms out of pure angst over her allergies? And how we
cringe when she rebelliously declares that she’s sick of allergies and will eat whatever she wants, so there? A slender little girl shaking her fist at God. So we hang out in the Stuckey’s booth for a while, finish eating and the girls mosey over to the gift shelves and will no doubt beg us to buy them another piece of junk or two, which we will because we can’t resist, can’t deny them, can’t say No. Bad parents, shame on us. But here’s the gospel: our children will not do without as long as Renee and I breathe. Step aside social workers, psychologists, ‘experts,’ might as well blast you away too while I’m at it. I tell Renee about the dream. ‘Pretty bad when sleep, the last hope, sabotages you,’ I groan. ‘We’re floundering,’ she says. ‘The sequence of horrors is not natural. And the bleakness around here doesn’t help. I’ll never forget those sights. It’s time to find ourselves a warm cave in the mountains and burrow for a while.’ ‘I’ve been in a few caves but never a warm one. Lots of bats, too. And what about hot running water? How could we live without?’ ‘This is true,’ she says as she clasps my fingers, draws them forward across the table and draws a ball point picture on the back of my hand. ‘What is it?’ I ask, studying the geometric complexity of the doodle. ‘A mandala,’ she smiles. ‘I’ll never wash it off.’ ‘You can’t,’ she laughs. ‘It’s indelible ink.’ ‘I will gaze upon it and explore the mysteries of the cosmos as well as the mysteries of my own soul.’ ‘I’d say we’ve run out of mysteries, and that’s the problem. Everything’s obvious. Only a matter of outpacing the bad stuff even if you’re out of gas. Do you love me?’ Renee has this habit of popping the question at the least expected moments. It comes random, unplanned, serendipitous, a grace note amid the fugue. ‘More than anything,’ I squeeze her hand. And we just sit there mooning at each other like two 50
goofy teenagers, in Stuckey’s, surrounded by desolation and extinction. She has never looked so sexy to my jaded, aging eyes. In another life she was Nausicaa, and I, crusty, half drowned Odysseus passed out in a bramble bush. I’m tempted to climb across the table and initiate some formidable hanky panky. Little time for hanky panky with the kids and constant exigencies. This I deeply regret. But what can you do? In no time, of course, Lea and Bee rush back breathless, Bee holding a rubber snake, Lea, a plaster of Paris angel with gauze like wings. ‘We love these,’ they plead, ‘can we, can we?’ And soon I’m extracting more cash from my pocket. He who steals my purse steals trash. ‘Ya’ll ready to move on?’ Renee asks. ‘I’m sick of driving,’ Lea scowls. ‘Me too,’ echoes Bee. ‘Not much farther,’ I say. ‘What’s left of New Orleans is right around the corner.’ ‘Are we going to be sad?’ Lea asks. ‘Katrina was nearly ten months ago. Let’s just hope the place has revived some.’ ‘Can we go to the park and feed the ducks again?’ ‘If they’re alive,’ I sigh. Last internet report on the park, both parks, was that the ducks had all drowned and gators were moving in. Rosa and Samuel took a stroll through Audubon not long ago and beheld a sole black swan fixed like stone atop the lagoon algae. I believe we’re in for it. But after all, every journey requires its descent into hell.
| Tom Barlow
Jenny was not sure she even cared that much for her heart, until she realized that now her brother wanted it. The same thing had happened when they were kids, when he took her Lego set. The car wouldn't start, either. Jenny ground on the key until the battery was completely dead, then sat for ten minutes listening to the winter wind whistle through the leaky window trim of her Ford piece
of shit. It wasn't as though her brother cared if she made it to the hospital in time to watch him eat his Jell O. She dug her grandfather's old Barlow pocketknife out of her purse. It was razor sharp, honed the way he had taught her, his hand cupping hers as they made slow, gradual laps over the whetstone. Her days at the goldsmith’s bench were wearing her down just as infinitesimally. She scraped at the jeweler's rouge staining the quick of her nails for a while before finally setting out to walk to the hospital. The hospital illuminated the entire neighborhood. To Jenny, passing from the dark street into the light felt like walking uphill. Her brother Scott was working the crossword puzzle as she arrived. When she said hello, he held up his hand like a crossing guard to stop her talking until he wrote in the answer to a clue. Jenny moved around the bed to the visitor's chair. She thought there was more equipment in his room than the day before, more monitors, maybe. ‘What's that?’ she said, pointing to a new IV running from his neck. ‘It's a central line, so they can dump drugs directly into my heart if they need to.’ ‘Is that a bad sign?’ He shrugged. ‘Reverend Stevens was by to visit today.’ He carefully folded the paper and placed it on his lap tray. ‘I'm number one on the prayer tree, now that Mrs. Welch died.’ 54
‘That can't hurt.’ Can't help, Jenny thought. She had been on the same tree for years. ‘I'd rather be number one in sales again. But maybe prayers are like votes to get into heaven. Maybe I need to start campaigning.’ Her brother’s hair had always been fair, but now it looked a little on the green side of blonde, without a trace of the red their grandfather had passed on to them. He looked short, now. Hospital beds always made people appear shorter to her. ‘Since when did you start believing in heaven?’ she said. ‘About the same time an elephant sat on my chest. Before my heart attack, I never thought about it. I figured that a guy that makes as much money as I make, with a daughter like Heather, doesn't need to dream about heaven, too. You’re telling me you’ve never thought about it, all the time you've spent here?’ ‘I never had a problem believing in hell, but heaven always seemed like a stretch. I remember wanting to believe, when Mom died.’ Jenny noticed Scott had been given a morphine drip, so he could self administer for the pain. ‘Yeah, I'm not sure what to expect, either. I asked the Pastor, if there isn’t any sex or drinking in Heaven, what do I have to look forward to?’ He was smiling, but there was a bitter undertone in his voice. ‘Maybe, in heaven, the Browns win on Sunday. Has Heather been by today?’ ‘Not yet. She has the SATs this weekend, so she stayed at school late for the study group.’ ‘You need anything?’ Jenny was still cold from her walk, wished she had her own hospital bed, her own monitors, her own warmed blankets, and a nurse's aide to rub her back. ‘Could I have your heart?’ Every time he said it, he smiled a little less. When Jenny didn't reply, he said, ‘I could use some thank you cards, for the flowers. And could you stop by the office and bring me my customer Rolodex? And some stamps. A couple of my Cadillac customers trade up, at list price, all the options, every two years. They're about due. And could you call Lisa for me, ask her if she could help out with the hospital expenses, for old time’s sake?’ He seemed to expect her
to make a list. ‘Check the answering machine at my house, too, would you? I'm not sure Heather pays any attention, since she got her cell phone. And could you bring me some of those wool socks, the ones you gave me for Christmas? My feet are always cold.’ When they were growing up, she used to tell their babysitters that the only way to tell if Scott was truly asleep was to listen for when he quit saying 'me'. Then, one night, she thought she heard him saying it in his sleep, over and over. She expected Scott's house to be dark, but it was as bright as the hospital. The drapes were drawn, and every window glowed with the pastel hue of their curtain. The front door was unlocked, and she walked in on what might have been a study group, if the kids had been seated in front of the books, tablets and laptops they'd left sprawled across the living room floor. Instead, they were in the family room, nested in pairs into the furniture, watching a movie. She saw them before the tall boy with long black hair had time to pull his hand out of Heather's t shirt. Jenny wanted to back out, walk around the block and give the house time to empty, but Heather jumped up from the couch, grabbed her by the wrists and pulled her into the hall. ‘How's Dad? Any news on a donor?’ she asked, as Jenny started up the stairs. ‘I was going to visit him, but I ran out of time.’ ‘He's a little worse,’ Jenny said. ‘No donor. He wants his wool socks. Have you heard from your mother?’ ‘Not even a text. She's supposed to be back from Cozumel some time this week. I called her a couple of times, but her phone must have been out of range.’ ‘Who’s your boyfriend?’ Jenny asked, picking through Scott's underwear drawer. ‘Cody. Cute, huh? He's a genius. He's been helping me study for the SAT.’ ‘Yeah, he's cute. Then again, most 1 6 year old boys are. Is he smart enough to know about birth control?’ She found the wool socks in the next drawer down, in front of a pair of silky boxers with a pattern of hot peppers running around them like a garland. She tossed those in her bag, too. 56
Heather sat lightly on the foot of the bed. ‘You ever have any fun in your life?’ ‘Of course I’ve had fun. What a silly thing to ask.’ ‘Like, when?’ ‘You really think it was just once, when I had fun? That I could pinpoint a single moment?’ Jenny remembered her grandfather the blacksmith: holding the wrought iron against the anvil as she brought the hammer down on it. It rang, pealing. He put his arm around her, squeezing her with all the love she could never find again. For dinner, Jenny opened a can of baked beans, eating them cold from the can while watching a rerun of James Lipton interviewing Johnny Depp. For a vegetable, she ate a pickle. For a fruit, she chipped the remains of a half pint of mango sorbet out of the freezer. She leafed through the bills, trying to decide which one to pay, the gas or her shrink. The gas–it wasn't much. After her last episode, Jenny refused to rent an apartment that had a gas range. She held out until 8:00 p.m. before breaking out the wine. Her feet were cold, so she took the bottle with her into the bath, running another hot gallon into the tub every few minutes until the water heater started to fall behind. As soon as the wine was gone she went to bed. It was not quite 9:00 p.m. Jenny woke at the usual time, which was not early enough to walk to work and make it before the shop opened. It was half
raining, half snowing. She chose to dress for snow and arrived at work soaking wet. ‘I saw your car out back when I came in this morning’ the shop manager Anne said, leafing through Jenny's job box. She opened one envelope, dumped the setting and stone into her palm, and checked the due date. ‘Want me to call a tow truck? I'd prefer we didn't have any abandoned cars back there. It might give somebody the wrong idea.’ She laid the envelope on Jenny's soldering block, patted her shoulder encouragingly, and flashed the concerned smile she used on people about to select a lesser diamond.
Jenny assembled a mother's ring that morning: amethyst, citrine, peridot, garnet. Lilac, tangerine, lime, blood. The colors grated on her, did not belong together. They reminded her of the way Scott dressed as a child. Their mother had let him choose anything he wanted, and he always chose his favorite socks, pants, shirt, sweater, whether the colors clashed or not. She spent the afternoon pavé setting diamonds for a cocktail ring. Her eyes and hands shoved her mind aside, and gradually, satisfyingly, the gold yielded to the pressure of the graver in her hand. She finished just as the showcase lights were turned off and the front door locked for the night. Since Anne wasn’t working the next day, Jenny decided she could wait until then to deal with the car. The walk to the hospital refreshed her. Heather was in her father's hospital room studying solid trig. By the way she was turned toward the window, Jenny could tell that her brother had already been asked for help and found wanting. ‘You know anything about spherical polygons?’ Heather said by way of a greeting. ‘They're round?’ Jenny said. She thought Scott was asleep, but she saw his lips moving. She leaned over him, heard him whispering, ‘me, me, me.’ She slapped his face, lightly. He smiled. ‘I told her the only way to make numbers interesting is to put dollar signs in front of them. You reach Lisa yet?’ Heather pulled on her headphones. ‘Not yet. Do you really expect her to give you any money? It's not like she walked out on you. She walked in on you. There's a difference.’ She brushed away the loose hairs on his pillow. Heather’s eyes followed her. ‘That was a past life. One thing about Lisa and me, we don’t hold grudges. Heather needs both of us, now. Remember what happened when Dad died?’ Jenny's memories of the day her dad died always started at the red and blue flashers. What details she knew came from reading the paper. Suicide by policeman. The only keepsake she had of his was the pistol he had drunkenly pointed at the cops. She had looked for Scott that evening, but he and their 58
mom had already gone to her aunt's house to hide from the press. She was left alone for the television crew's money shot. ‘Bring my Rolodex?’ Scott asked. ‘My car died. I wasn't able to get over to the dealership yet.’ ‘I really need those addresses. No biggie, but it could mean a few thousand bucks.’ ‘You need anything else?’ ‘Got a heart to spare?’ He was thumbing his morphine as he spoke. That evening, Jenny soaked her aching fingers in hot water while she worked up the energy to call her ex boyfriend Chris for some help; to put up with his horseshit. He wanted to talk, as she had feared. ‘You doing OK?’ he asked. She could hear him sipping from his ever present coffee mug. ‘Still taking your meds?’ He had always been a pryer. He usually worked her over like a chef with a clam knife. ‘The car won't start,’ she said. ‘And you're telling me this, why?’ ‘I'm willing to pay you.' ‘First you don't want me around, for free,’ he said. ‘Now you want to pay. I don't think so.’ ‘Fine. Forget I called.’ ‘Did you leave the car lights on again?’ She heard the shhhtick of his match. ‘Yeah, no doubt it was a typical Jenny fuck up.' ‘You still seeing your therapist?’ ‘You're really a pain in the ass, you know that?’ She knew he was waiting for her to beg for his help with the car. For once, she couldn't force herself to grovel. ‘Forget I called.' She hung up. The phone rang immediately. She let it ring a couple of times – assuming it was Chris – before she checked the caller I.D. She picked up the receiver. ‘Lisa. How are you?’ ‘How's Scott?’ Lisa replied. Her voice was indistinct. Jenny imagined her at the other end of saggy copper wire, insulation hanging
down in tendrils, snaking across the Mexican desert. ‘About seventy five percent dead, I'd guess,’ she said. ‘Any luck finding a donor?' Jenny overheard someone order coffee; ‘Un café con leche, por favor.’ ‘Not yet. They don't have much hope.’ ‘How's Heather?’ ‘I have her cell number. Got something to write with?’ Jenny tried to filter the sarcasm out of her voice. ‘God, this is going to destroy her. You know what she thinks of me. She worships her father.’ Jenny could hear laughter on Lisa's end of the phone connection. ‘Scott wants to know if you and Steve would be able to kick in some money for his medical expenses.’ She felt foolish even suggesting it. ‘How are you doing? Still working at that little jewelry store? That’s the longest you’ve ever held a job, isn’t it?’ ‘Close to a year.’ ‘You should be proud. Wasn’t it only a year ago, your last episode?’ ‘Yeah, just about. I don’t have the exact date on hand, but...’ ‘Isn't it a little ironic? You try to kill yourself, and now Scott would give anything just to stay alive? God, sorry, that must sound terrible. Of course I didn't mean it that way. Forgive me?’ The tink tink of her spoon in her coffee cup rang through the line as though striking a harmonic in the copper. ‘What should I tell Scott, about the money?’ Jenny timed Lisa's response. It took her nearly five minutes to get around to saying no. Later that evening, as they were watching , Heather badgered Jenny for a drink. Heather was impatient with the contestants who had talent. She liked the fools. ‘Let's have a glass of wine, like normal adults,’ Heather said. ‘You're only sixteen. You're not an adult. And I'm anything but normal.’ ‘My dad says I'm an adult, now. He put the checking 60
account in both of our names, just in case.’ ‘The blind lead the blind.’ Heather stuck out her tongue. ‘We're not the ones shopping at the Goodwill.’ ‘Touché. No wine.’ They watched the 8:00 p.m. show without comment, Heather occasionally looking down at her biology text to pick out another detail to consider. Jenny dozed, comforted by the breathing next to her. ‘Tell me about my grandparents,’ Heather said unexpectedly, when the top of the hour ad block began. ‘Why don't you ask your dad?’ ‘He says they were wonderful.’ ‘So, there you are. They were wonderful.’ ‘If they were so wonderful, how come he never talks about them?’ ‘Sometimes, you just reach a point when you're full of a person. You always know what they're going to say, and they know exactly what you're going to say. When you get to that point, they never leave you, even if they die. I think that's what happened to Scott with Mom and Dad.’ ‘What about you? You never talk about them, either.’ ‘I had my fill of them long before your father.’ Heather considered this. ‘I'm not full of Dad.’ ‘I know.’ Her eyes returned to the biology text. ‘Can I live with you after he dies? Lisa could give a shit about me.’ Jenny recognized that she needed to respond immediately, but it was a question she'd been worrying about for months. She looked around her apartment, at the dilapidated couch, threadbare curtains, peeling linoleum, and all the empty boxes and empty space, the temporary look that served as her decorating style. ‘Sure you can,’ she finally replied. ‘But he's not going to die.’ ‘Just because he doesn't want to, doesn't mean he won't.’ Heather began thumbing the remote through the stations, checking out the 9:00 p.m. lineup. ‘What's it like to almost die?’ Jenny went into the kitchen, and poured them both a glass of wine.
Scott was worse the next day. He sat up more to keep the fluid in his lungs pooled at the bottom. His hair hadn’t been washed in a couple of days, and he coughed in sets: three, then seven. ‘Got to tell you something,’ Scott said, after a nurse's aide brought him some hot tea to clear his throat. ‘What's that?’ ‘Those bills, from the last time you were in here?’ The bills had seemed like double punishment when they arrived. First the shock treatments and the zombie meds. Then the bills, day after day. She was up and down, up and down: Zoloft, Librium, Xanax, in the morning, bills in the afternoon mail. ‘I cashed in my 401 K to get the money,’ he said. He'd paid some bills for her; she knew that. At the time, he'd bragged to anyone that would listen about how he'd negotiated most of the debt away. ‘All of it?’ She watched a couple of teens walking the parking lot, trying car doors. His chest tube struck a phlegm pocket, and sucked at it like a kid chasing the last of a milkshake. The year she bought her parents a color television, Scott bought them a GMC pickup truck. The time she brought home straight A's, he set fire to the garage. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘What's Heather supposed to do?’ ‘Hell if I know. What did we do when Mom died?’ ‘We wished we were dead.’ ‘Speak for yourself. I'll tell you something.’ He was talking softly, mostly with his mouth. ‘I almost never miss the old man. I miss Mom every day.’ ‘You still pissed about him killing himself?’ ‘Sure. How can you forgive that?’ ‘Then how can you say you don't miss him?' He was sweating, although the room was cold. She couldn't take her eyes off the heart monitor, watching the sine waves on the screen run from left to right like the thrashing of the snake her grandfather had once impaled on the porch, after it had cornered her. He said, ‘All I know is, it'll be a shame if it turns out I'm more alive dead than you are alive.’ 62
'Well thanks, brother.’ ‘I wish I could count on you to take care of Heather. It's not your fault, the way you are. It's just that I don't know what to do.’ Her mother's last words to her had been, ‘Take care of your brother. He needs you.’ After her mother died, she found her father's suicide note sticking out of the family Bible. It read, . Parked in front of the Emergency Room entrance, Jenny carefully arranged the photos, her father's pistol, insurance policy and telephone on the passenger's seat of her car. She figured she could call 9
1 1 , wait until she saw the crew from the ER walking toward the car, then do the deed. Her heart would surely remain viable for the time it took them to get her into the hospital and retrieve it. She'd already written out an explanation about Scott and his need and pinned it to her shirt. She lined up the photos: Mom and Dad on his bass boat; Scott, Lisa and baby Heather at Christmas 2002; Chris and her on the excursion boat The Spirit of Niagara, in yellow slickers, hair soaked. It was the only picture of herself smiling that she could find. She was wearing her mother's rings. Her favorite was the first ring she'd ever made for her mother: two Burmese rubies nested in elegant sweeps of gold. Heather tried on Jenny's jewelry almost every time she visited. She knew which rings fit which fingers. She had told Jenny in detail which stones, if they were hers, she would put in new settings. Once, she'd said that she thought Jenny's sapphire would make a good belly button ring. Jenny called her niece. ‘You should get to the hospital to see your father as soon as you can,’ she said. ‘You're going to let him die?’ Heather said. Her voice was halting, maybe from tears, maybe from a cigarette; Jenny couldn't tell. ‘How it is it up to me?’ ‘Dad said this is your way of getting even. You're going wait for him to die, then kill yourself. To spite him.’ Her voice sounded a little slurred. ‘He said you'd always been selfish.’
‘Did he tell you to say that to me?’ ‘No. He made me promise not to. But I'm an adult. I can say what I want.’ In eighth grade, Jenny had won a hundred dollars in the marching band raffle. Her friend Stacey's father made custom pocketknives. She used the money to commission one for her father, for his birthday. She had his name inlaid in ebony on the bone handle. When it was done, she showed it to Scott. He asked if he could hang on to it for a few hours, so he could look at it more carefully. That night, when Jenny asked Scott to return it, he begged her to let him give it to their father. As a gift from him. ‘He doesn't like me,’ Scott said. ‘He's always bragging about you. He takes you everywhere. It's not fair.’ Scott had always known how to work her. ‘I'll make it up to you, I promise,’ he said. ‘When Mom and Dad are gone, who else is going be there for you?' She had relented. It was only after her father opened the box that she realized she had never wanted anything in her life as much as she wanted the smile her father gave to Scott. After their father died, Scott took the pocketknife. She inherited only her father’s memories of it. ‘Aunt Jenny?’ Heather said, when she didn’t respond. ‘I'm sorry? Don't be mad.' Jenny took off the rings, dropping them into her pocket. She put the pistol back in the glove compartment. She lightly pressed a hand against her chest, felt her heart pounding like a hammer on an anvil. ‘You go see your father, now.’ she said to Heather. ‘I'll have a room ready for you, when the time comes.’
| Megan Parker
You sit alone on the brown corduroy couch in your rented double wide and stare into one of thirty mirrors that clutter your living room walls like old ladies’ jewelry. You collect mirrors, various shapes and sizes, garage sale discards. Mostly, you hate to look at them, hate what they see in you. Tonight, however, you are feeling glumSmasochistic, evenSand allow your eyes to flicker off the walls like dingy bulbs. In the beveled hexagon, you appear gray as a wet towel, and just as rough. In the oval, horse faced, gaunt. You need to shave. A thumb strokes the harelip above your mouth, the deformity gifted when Uncle Kudzu bred with your mother. Bred. A pretty word for what you now call rape. But in the Sweeney clan, it is just custom. A mandate, even. Keep the bloodline pure, your great grandpappy proclaimed. Wildred, the big bastard, the anomaly that transformed his kin from migrant Poles to hillbilly inbreeds. But incest does not really bother you, does it? After all, you mated with your cousin, Sugar, when you were seventeen and she was twenty four. Knocked her up like you were told. You have never met the kid, do not even know its name, or if it made it out alive. Just high tailed it out of Tennessee to Georgia when Sugar told you she hadn’t bled. But that is beside the point. No, what it boils down to for youSalways for youSis that damned harelip. You swivel your head, glance in the large convex mirror to your left. The harelip swells to twice its normal size in the reflection. Bare your teeth in disgust. What woman would want that? You think of SugarStwo pinky toes on each foot, golden mesh of hair spun fine as a basilica orb weaver’s web. You mated, but didn’t love. Not with that harelip. Bile hits your taste buds, and you press a fist against your abdomen. Yearning, thick and potent, floods every vein and capillary. You suppose if you cut into one of those crumbling arteries, it would be longing that erupted out, blacker and thicker than the blood of Satan, to 66
claim you once and for all. For all your regret, you think kindly of Hillbilly Hollow, as you call it. You felt at ease in that dirty tribe of grizzled beards and gray
brown teeth, where morals were guided by the religion of the belly. Men tracked white tailed deer, coyote, grouse, sometimes black bear. Hunting was a meditation. Nature ruled and a man was only as swift as his brother’s blade, baptized in the blood of the kill. You skinned and collected pelts and flesh in the shadows of the sweet birch with your kin. They smeared blood on your lips when you killed your first boar at twelve. You recall a rush of peace filling you as the creature’s eyes soured to milky orbs, silent and white as fog. In the mountains, you fell in love with the stars. You were never alone. You manage to take two deep breaths before a knock at the front door steals your focus. A muffled voice creeps through the cracks around the fiberglass door. ‘Biddlecom, you okay, son?’ Earl Tuggle, your boss. You glance at the microwave clock. You had planned to meet him at Aberdeen’s Ale House thirty minutes ago. But you slap your free hand over the light switch on the wall above your shoulder, and darkness swallows you whole. For a wild second, you imagine yourself as Jonah in the great fish’s belly, dark and silent and alone. The knocking ceases. After two decades, Earl knows to leave you be when you get into one of your states, as he calls it, when the whole world shuts down around you. In the extinction of sound and sight, you feel secure in your own pain, in the belly of this beast that will one day take you wherever you need to be and spit you up, out of the burning despair. Monday morning, Earl crooks his finger at you from the tailgate of his ’89 Chevy Silverado. Setting down the container of pink spackle and the crusted flat blade, you walk over, passing Marshmallow Milo with his caulk gun. He shoots you a wet raspberry. You shoot him the finger. As you approach Earl, he slips the motel contract he has been working on into the cracked briefcase his wife Elsie bought him for
their tenth wedding anniversary. He used to carry porn in it, or so Elsie says. Men and porn. There’s some kind of brotherhood in that. Earl pats the tailgate next to him. ‘Sit down, son.’ Earl has been calling you son for twenty one years, ever since you ran away from Hillbilly Hollow with no money and no plan. Driving a stolen green Camry, you had burned rubber all night, until the arrow pointed to E, landing you square on Cracker Swamp Road. Earl discovered you ransacking his garbage cans at four in the morning, stomach empty, a startled raccoon on his back porch. He must not have seen the harelip, because he nearly adopted you on the spot, the ugly
incest duckling, the trash peddling teenager. Earl’s heart was as big as Elsie’s ass and just as soft. You lift a leg and rest one white clad buttock on the tailgate, perching like a scrawny stork on the verge of delivery. Earl has always paid more attention to you, has known you longer than most of the painting crew, and it shows. You hear Milo blowing more raspberries and the resonating guffaw that follows splits nerve endings in your teeth. You grimace, thumb your harelip. ‘How you been?’ Earl asks. He does not look at you as he untucks a cigarette from behind one ear. This has always been Earl’s waySconcern without prying. You offer him your green Bic lighter, and he ignites. ‘Never better,’ you say as Earl returns the Bic. Lie. You have never seen a better day in your life, except the day Earl took you in, rented you the double wide, gave you a job. But Earl is too kind to mention this, and you are just the right amount of pussy not to own up to it. ‘Missed you at Aberdeen’s.’ ‘Yeah.’ You light up a Marlboro. Earl gives you a sideways glance. From this angle, his blue eyes glint silver. ‘Wife wanted me to check up on you. Make sure you was eating okay.’ You picture the moldy cereal still floating in your kitchen sink, empty cabinets lined with tacky paper and roach traps. ‘I’m good.’ You and Earl blow smoke into the graying sky. ‘Looks like rain again,’ Earl says, scowling. Tuggle’s Prime Paint is currently repainting the aluminum exterior of Cracker Swamp Café a revolting shade of green. You and the guys got rained out last week, and as you glance at the sky, you are 68
expecting an encore. A gray mass of cumulonimbus roils into a stormy cornucopia, a vortex of lost paychecks. ‘Damn.’ You sigh, thinking of your broken, empty fridge. Earl crushes the stub of cigarette beneath the sole of his boot and hollers, ‘Pack it in, boys.’ Groans weigh in among the pounding on of paint lids with rubber mallets and heels. Everyone is poor, everyone needs money. Except Milo, the idiot. You watch him wiggle a caulk gun between his legs. Milo is twenty three and lives with his folks. His father, a banker at Georgia Credit Union one town over, makes him work. Not to pay rent, but to get him the hell out of the house for a few hours, you are sure. Aberdeen’s Ale House helps take care of this problem in the evening with shots of Jegermeister. Milo’s mother, queen of the white homemakers of Cracker Swamp, misses him when he is gone. Her sweet baby cream puff. The first fat drop of rain hits your wrist, trickles down to your fingers still pinching the Marlboro. The tip goes soggy. You cast it aside, amble off to clean up your work space by the back door of the café. It has begun raining steadily by the time you and the guys have packed up the equipment, including the empty cans of Michelob the boys downed at lunch. Earl exchanges a few words with the café’s owner before asking if you need a ride home. You usually drive the company van, a gray Ford with embossed in green block print on the side. But the transmission blew a week ago, and you are due to pick it up at the auto shop this afternoon. The rain is not too severe and the auto shop is only a block away, so you assure Earl you are fine to walk. The rain has become a silver sheet blurring everything together as you trudge down the block. Blinking water from your eyes, you manage to duck into the delivery port of a run down textile factory. Digging out the pack of Marlboros from the back pocket of your painter’s whites, you notice the packaging and contents have gone mushy from the rain. ‘Dammit.’ You chuck the cigs at what you think is a dumpster by the factory’s back door. Squinting, you realize the brown cube is a small makeshift shed. In all your walks past the factory, you have never noticed it. Curiosity sparks in you. It is the same sensation you used
to feel in Hillbilly Hollow when hunting new prey. You adjust your hood, dip back out into the rain, and make a beeline for the shed. Broken glass crunches beneath your work boots. You twist the rusted handle of the shed in a quick, upright jerk. At first, you think it strange that there is no lock, and after your third try the rust crumbles and you wrench open the door, duck inside. Your head brushes a ceiling thick with cobwebs. Looking around the dim space, you realize why no one thought to attach a padlock to the doors. Stacks of cardboard boxes sag in every corner, a few chewed through by rats. Tattered bits of fabric lay strewn about in filthy disarray. Old sewing needles scatter across the cement. You take a few hesitant steps forward, nose wrinkling from the heady smell of fungus, rodent feces, and stagnant water. Tentatively, you poke into a few open boxes, discovering nothing more than the shriveled husks of measuring tape that crackle like shed snake skin; a trove of silver thimbles, and spools of thread so dirty they could never have been any color but brown. ‘What’s the point?’ Your voice reeks of self pity, and you touch your harelip. Uncle Kudzu used to call that sort of weakness ‘horse shit.’ But right now, you do not care. You can be full of shit, horse or otherwise. At least then you would be , would have something to fill you up. A rush of wind slams the shed door closed with a tremendous thud, as though the Holy Spirit Himself is playing ghost tricks on you. Startled, you stumble and fall backwards into a decomposing pile of cardboard. Something slimy coats your hands. Disgusted, you heave yourself to your feet, grumbling as you wipe your palms down your thighs already stained with paint. You turn to kick the rotting pile out of your way when something odd catches your eye. Poking out from behind a box is a porcelain colored hand. It takes you a moment and a few deep breaths to realize that it is not real, that flesh has not rotted off skeletal fingers. You begin to feel like the curious hunter again as you bend down to examine it. The hand belongs to a beautiful albino woman with no legs. She is bald and naked, nipple less breasts sea glass smooth, eyes blank and empty as a dead doe. You run a thumb across her smooth white lips and marvel at their perfection. She does not recoil from your touch, does not flinch at the sight of your ungodly harelip, like so many women in 70
Cracker Swamp had. No woman has ever responded to you with such acceptance since Hillbilly Hollow. A strange heat spreads through your chest. Without quite knowing why, you scoop up the female torso, gripping her in your arms like a newborn filly. She does not protest. You feel giddy. You are aware that a mannequin rests in your arms, but that means very little to you at this moment. You grab a threadbare bit of fabric and drape it around the female form as best as you can before slipping back into the downpour, those beautiful dead eyes never leaving your face. You decide to name her Moira. In the weeks that follow, you assemble an entire wardrobe for her, including a pin straight blonde wig and Cover Girl make up purchased from K Mart. Since Moira’s skin is lacquered, the blush and lipstick wipe right off when you sponge bathe her at night. She likes to feel clean, you know, after spending years in that filthy shed. She sleeps in one of your white t shirts, just like a real girlfriend. She has become so real to you. You barely think about Tennessee anymore. Moira has kept away the darkness. You have forgotten to fix your refrigerator because Moira does not mind drinking tap water and munching gas station bean burritos for dinner. Initially, you worry about what Earl will say of Moira. It is why you keep her a secret for three weeks. The first morning she rides with you to workScorn silk hair webbing about her pink clad shoulders like laceSEarl nods at you from his truck, unlit cigarette clipped between teeth. You roll down the windows for Moira before shuffling over to Earl, Bic lighter in hand. Nerves undulate in your belly. You feel like an adolescent bringing home a date to meet your folks. Not that you have experience with this sort of thing. Sugar had been given to you one evening like a sacrifice, wrapped in white and pure as a lamb. Forget Sundays. Thursdays became holy the moment you claimed her. Earl expels a puff of smoke over his shoulder before asking, ‘New friend?’ You follow his gaze to the van, to Moira. She stares back.
‘Yep.’ You light up, adhering to the daily ceremony you and Earl have been practicing for twenty plus years. Earl grunts. ‘Pretty.’ His mouth twists in a funny way around his cigarette, as though he has bitten into a lemon. ‘She gonna stick around for a while?’ ‘Let’s hope so.’ You smile. God, you are smiling. Moira is a hit with most of the paint crew. You catch Ace, the new kid, flirting with her during lunch breaks. Milo glares over Ace’s shoulder, gripping his caulk gun like a twelve gauge. The way Ace reaches through the open van window to pinch Moira’s spidery hair between painted stained fingers makes you shiver with rage. You touch a thumb to your harelip before telling him and Milo to fuck off. Ace laughs, tips his white painter’s cap as he swaggers over to his truck, cracking open a can of Bud in a brown paper bag. Dumb kid. Harmless, but dumb. You hear Milo mumble under his breath as he waddles after Ace. He pauses, turns to look at you. ‘You’re a sick piece a shit, Sweeney, you know that?’ You shoot him a raspberry. Even Old Leray, who you have never seen sober, admires Moira, says she reminds him of an angel he once saw. ‘Which time, Leray?’ you ask, grinning. ‘When you was abducted by aliens or shroomin’?’ Old Leray scratches a tuft of gray whiskers on his chin, tongues his loose tooth. ‘Abducted,’ he confirms with a nod. ‘Them aliens was as pretty as angels. Pretty as Moira.’ You look toward the van. Moira’s hair floats about her face in a light breeze. Eyes blank as stones. You must admit, she is mighty pretty. Moira has been with you for six weeks, has watched you at work five out of every seven days, has spent the remaining two with you trolling the west side river for fresh water catfish or helping you weed the front yard. You begin to feel bad for all her time spent in the stuffy van, just watching. So, you purchase some rose scented candles from Dollar General for the trailer. Heart shaped doilies for the coffee table. Every morning and evening you comb her hair into a sleek saffron spill and mist 72
it with lilac scented body spray. Sometimes you clip in a bow or sequined headband that you’ve seen the girls at church wear. You re paint her nails ‘Pinking up the Pieces’ when the polish chips. The delicate, shimmering shade of pink suits her. She deserves pretty things. Earl invites you and Moira to his and Elsie’s house for dinner one Friday evening. As it happens, it is Moira’s and your three
month anniversary. You and Moira look forward to this eventSneither of you are very good cooks, you have discovered, and both of you have tired of fried catfish. Moira wears a scarlet secretary styled dress you scavenged from the donated used clothes bin at Freedom on the Hill for the occasion. You wear the only pair of pleated khaki slacks you ownSthe pair Elsie Tuggle bought you for your thirtieth birthdaySand the maroon flannel button down you know Moira likes. You recall your Sunday School teacher, Ms. Betti Lyn Snopes, teaching your class the importance of giving to others when you’d rather get for yourself. Or something like that. So, you grab a six pack of Knickerbocker for ninety
nine cents from the Grab it Quick for Earl and a liter of diet Coke for Elsie. Cheapest dinner you ever bought. You and Moira arrive at six forty five to Tuggle greetings of, ‘Good of you to come, son, thanks for the brew,’ and ‘Come in, come in, you two . . . darlings…’ Earl built the Tuggles’ house when he and Elsie first married forty years ago. You note the sage green shutters, the pearl white exterior stucco, all painted to perfection. The caulk lines that seal the windows look flawless. The front porch pine gleams, swollen with an ocher richness, an electric copper lantern sparkling next to the front door. This home is heaven. But when you walk into the living room, cradling Moira against your chest, it quickly turns to hell. ‘Well, well, ain’t you look fancy. See you brought your doll.’ Milo. He laughs and takes a slug of brown paper
wrapped something, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. ‘I had a doll once, you know. Only, she had working legs, if you know what I mean.’ ‘Milo!’ Earl closes the front door hard enough to make the
walls shake, but you barely notice. Your veins have become live wires, your blood electric with rage. Why the hell is Milo here? You look to Earl for answers. He scratches the stubble on his chin, glancing first at Milo, then you. Sighs. ‘All the guys are here, Biddlecom,’ he says. ‘From the job. They’re out on the deck. Elsie and I wanted to treat you all for working so hard on this last project. I didn’t tell you about the fellas coming because I knew you’d say no. But I reckoned you and Milo here would be able to get along for one evening.’ Milo gives you the doughiest, most sickening smile you have ever seen. You turn your body slightly away, shielding Moira from him. ‘Aw, come on now, Biddles,’ he says, pushing away from the plastic covered floral couch he’s been leaning on. ‘I’ll play nice, if you will.’ He gestures toward the sliding glass doors on the other side of the living room, where mosquito torches and strung Christmas lights illuminate the back deck. You notice Ace and Old Leray at the grill, hear laughter from some of the others out of sight. For a moment, you think of asking Elsie if Moira can lay down in the guest roomSshe’s feeling a bit overwhelmedSbut when Milo smiles at you a second time, you decide Moira will never leave your side again. An hour goes by, and you realize that you’re having a decent time. You devour two burgers Earl has grilled to perfection, Elsie’s famous mayonnaise and pickle slaw (heavy on the mayonnaise), and almost an entire bag of BBQ flavored chips. You even knock back a few of those Knickerbockers you brought Earl, who drinks the other half. Moira sits like a queen by your side, serenely overseeing the hubbub. You smile around the beef grease on your face, the out
of tune guitar Ace strums on the banister, the tale Old Leray spins about swallowing a tooth. As you loop an arm around Moira’s shoulders, you think no one has known happiness like you do now. Until Milo squeezes into the empty plastic chair in front of you, grinning like a shark. ‘Having a good time, Biddles?’ he asks. ‘Shove off, Milo.’ 74
‘Aw, come on, now,’ he says, tossing back a swallow of his bagged drink. ‘We’re supposed to be getting along. Boss’s orders. Besides,’ He leans forward suddenly and grips Moira’s throat. His voice turns venom soft. ‘I know how friendly you can be, how soft and weak. Can’t you, you twisted fuck?’ You’ve never seen a volcano erupt, but you imagine a kinship with one as you explode from your seat, blood surging through your limbs like lava, skin red and boiling. You don’t realize your fist has slammed against Milo’s cheek until arms pull you away. You’re roaring, screaming like a stuck boar. Earl and Ace are pulling at Milo, who yells, ‘Freak! You sick freak! She’s a , for Chrissakes! The fuck is wrong with you?’ Earl whispers fervently in your ear as his arms cinch harder around your chest. But his words fizzle against your anger. You glance down at Moira, who you expect to be as outraged as you. Instead, she sits in stoic calm, face blank as paper, head turned away from you. Darkness seeps into the corners of your eyes as something slips within the infrastructure of this moment. Something sparks deep within you, in that black, secret place where you have buried Sugar and Hillbilly Hollow and the stars. Your life was nothing but nightmare. That’s why you clung to Moira as soon as you found her, why you made her into a summit of salvation. Your only prayer against the darkness that is once again trying to re stake its blood claim to you. You have fought for nothing but light since Moira’s resurrection from the factory shed. But you know the truth now, don’t you? As Milo’s words reverberate in your head like plucked strings, as seeping night swallows Moira in shadow, you feel yourself begin to slip. You have your first argument with Moira two days later. Rain pelts your roof, steady and irritating and endless. Up until this point Moira has been so understanding and sympathetic toward you and your harelip, has not judged. This evening, however, she does not say anything when you finally tell her about Hillbilly Hollow, about Sugar, your maybe
kid, the clan. You wait for an answer you know will not come. She sits in the corner of the couch and stares blankly out of the window.
‘Are you even listening to me anymore?’ You say in exasperation, throwing your hands up in the air. Sixty hands flash around the room, reflecting off three walls of mirrors. She makes no response. Naturally. ‘Dammit, Moira, talk to me.’ You grip her chin between your thumb and forefinger, turn her face to yours. Her neck swivels with an unoiled squeak. ‘Just give me a sign. Something. Anything so I know you really hear me.’ , you think. When Moira still makes no response, you sink into the couch cushion. You feel yourself dripping farther down into the abysmal void. ‘I’m going to bed.’ You jerk to your feet, flick off the light switch. The trailer drowns in the pitch of night leaking in through the rain soaked window. Ambling to your room, you leave Moira in her jaunty position on the couch. You forget to lock the front door. You never forget to lock the front door. Moira is gone the next morning. You notice her absence while you prepare off brand coffee in the yard sale percolator. You freeze in your task, call, ‘Moira?’ The trailer remains silent. You call her name again. Panic rises like a tide in your throat. Coffee grinds cascade onto the linoleum. ‘Oh, God …’ You search every inch of the trailer to no avail. You remember leaving her on the couch last night. Remember feeling angry and scared. As you look fruitlessly in your bathroom, your closet, you wonder how the hell you could have been so stupid. ‘Christ!’ You slam the closet door. The cheap digital clock on the floor by your mattress reads six
fifty two. Eight minutes until you are due at the job site. Where could Moira have gone? could she have gone? You make a sudden dash for the front door. A peach pit of nausea hardens in your stomach, the sharp point pressing into your meaty insides. You are not an idiot. You are fully aware that Moira did not get up on her own. Someone must have moved her, taken her. Someone with a grudge against your relationship. ‘Fuck!’ You bare your teeth, understanding. ‘That 76
.’ The door is unlocked. You rip it open, throw back the torn screen door, practically fall down the wooden steps. It takes you a second to focus. What you see in the middle of your chinch bug eaten lawn makes you retch onto your shoes. ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph,’ you gasp, shaking. Your eyes are full of water. You look up from your puke puddle, not wanting to believe. A light breeze passes through the fragile blonde strands of hair that swirl around her aching, beautiful face. Her alabaster body has been replaced by a round aluminum rod staked into the ground, the tip sharp and protruding from her forehead like a grotesque unicorn horn. At the base of the pipe lays her torso, stripped of clothing, lacquered flesh lacerated. A cruel insult sliced into her chest: . You cannot think. You cannot breathe. Your heart thrashes against your sternum. Blood screams through you. The loneliness that you have carried for so long, that has been suppressed these past weeks with Moira, quails in the wake of this icy rage, awakened and thirsty. Cold blackness sinking into every cell, bitter and wretched as poison. You feel yourself slip. And let go. It takes twenty minutes to wash the blood from your hands the next morning. It blends in nicely with the rust of the kitchen sink. You have already given Earl a head’s up. Told him you might not make it to work the next morning. He promised to take care of Moira. You can trust in that, if nothing else. Any minute now the flashing red and blue lights will claim your body, haul you to hell. You gave yourself away when you left fingerprints on the aluminum rod. Cracker Swamp police are at least sophisticated in the ways of fingerprinting. Some drunk guy stumbling across the street from the bar may have seen you, as well. But you do not care about fingerprints or about some drunk guy. You care about Moira. It happened behind Aberdeen’s. You thought only of Moira as your fingers sunk into the abundant flesh of his marshmallow neck. You felt surprised that his shock and fear invigorated youSthe startled fox, the wayward buck. The hunter within you rejoiced when the eyes glazed over. When the severed head balanced easily on its aluminum tower. You roared
Now you dry your hands on a grimy towel and walk into the living room. She is waiting for you on the couch. You slide onto the cushion beside her. She remains silent, still in shock, you are sure. A violet sweater sheaths her scarred body. A vein twitches in your temple as you think of the insecurities she will now suffer. With a little shake, you remind yourself that the demon is gone. He will never torment her again. ‘There now.’ You give a small smile. The cream and purple scarf wrapped around Moira’s throat hides the hideous line that separates jaw from neck. For now, a bandage conceals the hole in her forehead. You brush her tresses with gentle comb strokes. You rub a bit of blush onto the apples of her pale cheeks. She is almost whole again, you think. A siren whines in the distance. You thumb your harelip, touch her lips. Smile. You are almost whole again, too.
A Fleeting History of Phylum, Class Order and Family
| Jennifer Clark
When my father admits he’s had blood in his urine for weeks, my mother yells at him. , he says, . Instead, she drags him and, as it turns out, his ratty, tatty bladder to the doctor. Tiny stones have been sloshing in his bladder for months, tearing the delicate lining. He tells the doctor a biopsy is not necessary. my mother wants
surmises the nurse.
, the nurse sighs, . In response, my father offers up a possible correlation between his current condition and the time he dangled from a tree when he was 6. When my father turns 9, over 9,000 miles away from his hometown of Belding, Michigan, men on another continent finish building a road. A fresh wound, it winds its way from the Tasmanian foothills of Hobart to the top of Mount Wellington. It is the Great Depression and Albert Olgilvie, the premiere of Tasmania, promotes the project, paving a way for thousands of unemployed Australians to work. Locals refer to the road as Olgilvie’s Scar. When my father is 28, he’ll cross the Pacific Ocean and ride a motorbike up and down the Scar at least once a month for a little over a year. Here, in Tasmania, he learns to read clouds. Wisps of white wrapping around the peak of the mountain means cold winds,
miserable weather. He’s been up there, 4,000 miles above sea level, when snow blows horizontal, skins of ice on the mountain’s many ponds. So, even though a handsome day hovers in HobartS Sand despite his desire to search for the Tasmanian isopod, he does not. He waits below. On Mount Wellington, ferns grow the size of trees. Charles Darwin, in his book wrote:
The Scar not yet carved in 1 836, it took Darwin two tries to reach the top. A severe day’s work, he noted. Having collected over 1 00 species of insects, including the dung beetle, weevil, and bee, he got back on his ship, the Beagle, and sailed away. Darwin didn’t find the freshwater isopod, cousin to crabs and crayfish. Gilled creatures, these crustaceans are common marine, freshwater, and terrestrial animals with seven pairs of legs.
, I venture.
, my father corrects me.
And then a minute later, , he says, laughing.
From his recliner, my father grows increasingly animated talking about isopods, more commonly known as pill bugs or roly polies. 80
Pressing his hands together, palms outwards, he wiggles his fingers. , he says, . He goes on about evolution, exoskeletons, ligaments attached to muscles, My mother rolls her eyes, shrugs him off as he tries to ride us up the mountain. my father says, surmising the British naturalist most likely sloshed through the shallow pools where the diminutive crustaceans reside, their small brown bodies blending in with the sediment. Dotting Wellington’s many pools are mossy looking steppingstones. These inviting stones aren’t stones at all, my father explains, but , a hard, cushion like plant.
Crouching over a pond on the mountain, my father uses a kitchen strainer to scoop up sediment. He gently sifts; the smaller particles slip through the holes and back into the water. Then he ladles the crustaceans, along with bits of debris into a cake sized, white enamel pan. The white allows him to more easily identify and sort the tiny bodies. He collects, counts, and measures. Up and down the mountain, month after month. Collecting, counting, measuring. He’ll takes pictures of preserved isopods, position their bodies precisely, smallest to largest, rows of brown commas on a page, no words between them. On the eve of my father’s surgery, the tulip tree in the backyard grows weary and releases one of its large limbs. As the ground shudders, my mother fears her world is slipping away. This is fact: My sister Holly and I are two continents. Ever evolving, we disassemble and collide. Just as we begin to drift away, we join together, only to pull apart in another area. Holly is always the helper when someone is in need. There is no give to her giving, and this creates tensions between us. The other day she mentioned she was going to clean
, I wanted to know,
My comments grind against Holly’s good nature, and she scrunches up her face.
Holly now sets her sights on the tree limb lounging on our parents’ lawn. Donning new work gloves and gripping a pristine chainsawSthe plastic sleeve still covering the chainSshe bursts into their home, marches past their startled expressions and into the backyard. When my sister calls, she is hysterical, sputtering about tulip trees and our of a mother. , she weeps, , I say, trying to rein her in. The morning of my father’s surgery, I’m sitting in the hospital waiting room with my mother.
. My mother , I say. I can already feel her pull. Alone on the summit, he crouches over the pond, hears
Holly breezes into the hospital waiting room, latte in hand, embraces my mother and kisses me on the cheek. she says, modeling it on her hip. , my mother agrees, the tree fight 82
ancient history. Call it a keen aptitude for forgiveness or a defective short
term memory gene, our family is not one to hold grudges. It’s one of our best qualities. A nurse invites us into the pre op room where my father, gowned in paper, is propped up on a bed. His feet, covered in puffy red socks, stick out the end. , says my mother as she takes his hand, . ' says the nurse, checking the IV pumping fluids into my father’s vein. , my mother utters in a soft, surprised voice. She pats her husband’s wrinkled handSI don’t think I’ve ever seen her do that beforeSand this simple gesture makes me want to cry. My father clears his throat. erupts my mother, releasing his hand. . , my father is fond of saying. He was born near the Flat River, in a town once known as the 'Silk Capital of the World.' Each year, one million pounds of raw silk from silkworms who feasted on mulberry leaves in Japan, China, and Italy poured into the tiny town of Belding, Michigan. A silkworm is really a caterpillar that emerges from the blind and flightless moth Bombyx mori, Latin for “silkworm of the mulberry tree.” Domesticated and bred over 5,000 years, silkworms produce fine fibers as they spin their cocoons. It takes 1 1 0 cocoons to make a silk tie. Before she was a wife and mother, my grandmother, Julia Schmitt, was a “Belding Silk Mill Girl,” one of four thousand, mostly females, employees of the Belding brothers, Alvah and Hiram. The Beldings built the first of four factories in 1 886 and paid their employees well, some making as much as $1 6 a week. In walking distance of the mills, they built three more buildings called 'Clubs' in which the girls, many of them recruited from farms far beyond the town, could feel at
In 1 91 4, Bruce Calvert, an advertising writer hired by the Belding Brothers, wrote:
Julia lived in one of these 'Clubs' and worked one of the Beldings’ 500 looms. Using silk strands that had been paired, twisted, spun, dyed, and wound onto bobbins, she created silk cloths used for lining petticoats, suits, cloaks, and dresses. One day, walking home from the silk mill, Julia and her long, satiny hair caught my grandfather’s eye. He, too, worked for a time in the mills, repairing looms and other equipment. Eventually, he wooed her away from 'the silks with happiness woven into them.' But World War I shook the silk road and as silk unraveled from fashion, my father was born into Belding. As Julia did with all four of her chidren, she spun her youngest son at home: In 1 928, Joseph Engemann spilled onto a brass bed and into a town of dyers, winders, spoolers, and weavers. Belding’s last silk mill closed in 1 932. Twenty years before the Belding Brothers first began peddling silk threads door to door, a woman a world awaySknown as Miss WandlySclimbs Mount Wellington to better view where her fiancé drowned in the Tasmanian river, the Derwent. A hard stone of grief lodged in her throat, she watches the water sweep its way to the Tasman Sea. A merry band of climbers soon follow in Miss Wandly’s wake. When they reach the cliff of dolerite columns known as the Organ Pipes, the party, using white lead paint, smears their names in large letters on the throat of the mountain. But even as her grand cords bleed white, the mountain still sings. After numerous treks up and down the mountain, my 84
father flies back over the ocean to Belding, just in time for his sister’s wedding. Not long after, near the summit, two towers pierce the mountain’s skin so Tasmanians can watch TV. Some people grow old. Others disappear. They climb summits, never to return. Old towers are replaced with newer ones. Factories fold. Silkworms keep spinning. Holly bellows, waving her arms in the air, as if she is trying to catch the attention of someone a mile away instead of on the other side of our father’s bed. My sister must look far away as well, for he shouts back, Enrico then introduces Holly to the blue scrubbed urologist at his side, explains that Holly’s the grocery cashier and she also taught his kids 1 5 years ago. I watch my father watching them as they lob conversation across his prone body. Although that sounds like something my sister would say, I think it’s Enrico.
I suggest. , Holly responds. Enrico asks incredulously,
I want so badly to say, but I just glare instead.
, she nods her head towards me,
I can’t take another second of this frivolous banter. I point to my father just in case there is any question as to who I’m referring to. This brings the anesthesiologist to his senses. My sister, however, narrows her eyes and glares at me. , promises Enrico in a reassuring, doctorly tone. The urologistSI’d forgotten he was in the roomSinforms us surgery will last about an hour and then he’ll update
us. My mother, sister, and I nod in unison. As my father is rolled down the hallway, a mist descends. The last thing I see is his billowy, white hair drifting away. When mist deepens and visibility is reduced to 1 ,000 meters, mist officially becomes fog. A low lying cloud, fog can be influenced by nearby bodies. In the waiting room, we canâ€™t see past the clock on the wall. The minutes tick by. My mother flips through magazines, and my sister looks at her phone. I drink coffee and slip away into my favorite childhood memory. I am maybe 6, jumping rope on the sidewalk when my father, his lanky frame squatting in the middle of our driveway, calls me to his side. I squat down and, like him, fold arms across bent knees. is all I remember him saying. Heads bowed, we watch a miniature armadillo, half the size of a macaroni noodle, sail ever so slowly across a sea of stones. No need to travel far to fall into the mysteries of the world. One only has to crouch down and pay attention. Harvest fog when necessary. California redwoods can absorb more than half their needed moisture by feeding on fog. In dry deserts, invertebrates like isopods, ants and beetles may feast on fog. The Namib Desert Beetle welcomes fog by walking to the top of a dune and positioning itself just so along the sandy ridge, its very body customized for collecting its misted breath. Over 40 million years ago, the Australian ark, anchored to Antarctica, broke away and drifted north. As the sea rose, the Bass Strait formed, separating the southern stern, known as Tasmania. When this 86
occurred some 1 0,000 years ago, the island of Tasmania and every living thing on deck was cut off from the mainland. We adapt to our circumstances. We continue to drift. The lifespan of an isopod is three years. Female Michigan and Tasmanian isopods both build baskets beneath their bodies, between their first several pairs of legs, and lay their eggs in them. The Tasmanian isopodâ€™s eggs are twice as big and their shells twice as thick as those of the Michigan isopod. Michigan isopods hatch two generations per year whereas Tasmanian isopods take three years to complete one generation. , my father says, Isopods eat decaying plant and animal remains. In Michigan, deciduous trees shed each year, their leaves tumbling into streams and ponds. , my father continues, . Here is an evolutionary secret: No matter what basket weâ€™ve rolled out of, Belding resides within each of us. Hold up your right hand, palm facing you. Let your eyes travel from the base of the ring finger down the palm. Cross the heart line and come to rest in the confluence of the head and fate lines. You are here. On the Australian mainland, my father walks through the cloud forest of the Otway Ranges. He kneels and digs into the dirt with a trowel.
Teeming throughout the forest floor are isopods the size of a pinkie finger, the largest terrestrial ones heâ€™s ever seen. A relative of the Tasmanian isopod, the , with its big body and
rudimentary eyes, has adapted to a dim and moist life in shallow tunnels beneath the ferns and eucalyptus trees.
taught me that.
Everything is connected to everything else. My father
Ancient waters run beneath our feet. Below one fifth of Australia is the Great Artesian Basin. Described as a water tank, a giant geological sponge, and a finite resource, it bubbles its way up through natural springs. This water was celebrated by the Australian poet Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson. In his 1 892 ballad 'A Bushman’s Song,' he wrote: . In a later poem, “Song of the Artesian Water,” he wrote of drought and men mining for water We, like Paterson, praise water. We also waltz it away. We drill and bore, and siphon away the largest supply of fresh water in the world; as it is depleted, groundwater drops and the springs it feeds dry up. As we lose what is below, we lose what lives above. Crimes against crustaceans tend to go unnoticed. Today, the once plentiful is endangered. Unless these isopods promptly learn to fly, they are tunneling towards extinction. We are in the post op room. My mother rests in a chair; the urologist, Holly and I sit on the couch, my sister in the middle. The urologist is telling us that, combined, the stones removed from my father’s bladder are the size of a plum. To demonstrate, he presses his thumbs together and overlaps his forefingers. Holly exclaims. 88
the urologist corrects.
, she counters. , I say between gritted teeth, kneading her in the ribs. She pokes back but for the moment settles. The doctor seems impressed with the size of my father’s prostate. He tells us that men his age tend to have enlarged prostates but his is especially large, protruding into the bladder. He had to use a special instrument to lift it so he could sweep some stones that had become lodged underneath it. With other men, he would simply have shaved the prostate down a bit, but with my father’s funkyShe threw out the term 'funky' as if it were a medical termSblood disorder, he couldn’t risk it. Medication will be given to shrink the gland over time. Two times I tell my sister to shut up. She loves to ask questions. She has a habit of ladling question upon question without waiting for the answer, the answer not as important as the asking. , I tell her. I want to hear what the doctor is saying. My sister and I cringe. We don’t want to consider our father’s penis, let alone know that it will be sore. In the recovery room, we want him to feel at home. We flurry about, encircling him. My mother moistens his forehead with kisses. , I wonder,
Mountains are ever evolving, shaped by wind, rain, and ice. Gravity and time bear down, upon mountains and towns, always bearing down. Convicts once mined Mount Wellington for ice. We take what we can from hardness. In Belding, children ran down Liberty Street, begging the iceman for , his truck bearing frozen blocks of water harvested in winter from lakes and ponds. , my father said, Bundled in memory, the shiny skeins of ice and milk and egg men unravel.
my father wants to know. We
Despite being tethered to earth by a catheter, my father rises into the clouds. , he muses, his voice far away. My sister whips out her phone and proceeds to slash her forefinger wildly about, like a conductor in the throes of a grand finale. , she announces, throwing her hands into the air.
, my mother says, beaming at Holly. , my father
Suzzanna Matthews Amanzio | Suzzanna Matthews Amanzio is a graduate of Mills college in Oakland CA. While she considers California home, she grew up in New England and has lived, studied, and traveled abroad: from Latin America to Spain, the Caribbean to the Pacific, Newfoundland to Japan. Along the way, she picked up a few languages, lots of life experience, and a wrote a collection of stories. She is currently a first year MFA candidate in fiction at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. It is her first time living in the South. A.A. Azariah Kribbs | A.A. Azariah Kribbs lives in Virginia with her Griffon, Fuffle. She has been published in several venues, including , and . Two of her short stories won awards in the Bethlehem Writers’ Roundtable’s 201 6 annual short story competition. Her work is pending publication in the Fall 201 7 issue of . Megan Parker | Megan Parker’s work has been published or is forthcoming in , and . She resides in San Angelo, TX with her husband and two daughters, where she is completing her MA in English and Fiction. Ann Fisher | Ann Fisher lives and writes in the Green Mountains of Vermont. She has published non fiction pieces in and in . She has an upcoming piece, "The Judge”, that will be published in the Spring 201 7 edition of . Tom Barlow | Tom Barlow's stories may be found in anthologies including 3 and , and
numerous magazines including
and . He is also author of the short story collection and the novel .
Amy VanDeburgh Fant | Amy VanDeburgh Fantâ€™s work has appeared or is forthcoming in , and , among others. Sheâ€™s originally from South Carolina, finished her MFA at Emerson College in Boston, and is currently writing and teaching in Nashville, Tennessee.
Louis Gallo | Louis Galloâ€™s work has appeared or will shortly appear in
,and many others. Chapbooks include . He is the founding editor of the now defunct journals, and . He teaches at Radford University in Radford, Virginia. Chelsey Clammer | Chelsey Clammer is the author of and winner of the 201 5 Red Hen Press Nonfiction Manuscript Award. Red Hen Press will be publishing her collection of lyric essays, , in Fall 201 7. Her work has appeared in , and , among more than one hundred other publications. She is the Essays Editor for , a reader for magazine, and an online creative writing instructor and columnist for . Chelsey received her MFA in Creative Writing from Rainier Writing Workshop. She lives in Austin, TX. Jennifer Clark | Jennifer Clark's work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times and once for the Rhysling Award. Her first book of poems, was published by Shabda Press. This collection of grief and loss poems was nominated for a Michigan Notable book and made the Kalamazoo Public Library Staff Picks: Best of 201 4. Shabda Press will be releasing her second book of poetry, later this year. Most recently, she co edited the anthology,
. It was released on April 1 9th by Celery City Books and has already gone into a second printing. (All proceeds benefit a local immigration clinic.) Her writings have been published in places like , and
Bill Wolak | Bill Wolakhas just published his fifteenth book of poetry entitled with Ekstasis Press. His most recent translation with Mahmood Karimi Hakak, , was published by Cross Cultural Communications in 201 4. His collages have appeared recently in Naked in New Hope 201 6 and The 201 7 Seattle Erotic Art Festival. In 201 6, he was a featured poet at The Mihai Eminescu International Poetry Festival in Craiova, Romania; Europa in Versi, Lake Como, Italy; The Pesaro International Poetry Festival, Pesaro, Italy, The Xichang Qionghai Silk Road International Poetry Week, Xichang, China; and Ethnofest, Pristina, Kosovo. Mr. Wolak teaches Creative Writing at William Paterson University in New Jersey.. Sandeep Kumar Mishra | Sandeep Kumar Mishra is an outsider artist, an International freelance writer and a lecturer in English with Masters in English Literature and Political Science. He has edited a collection of poems by various poets
(2002) and written a professional guide book
(201 6) and a collection of poems and art
(201 6). Recently his work has published in
, etc.. Stephanie Flood | Stephanie Flood was born in the Philippines in destitute poverty, adopted at the age of two, and grew up in the United States. Her life experience and journeys have formed her into the fantasy writer, mixed media artist and information professional she is now. Stephanie's first poem was published in a literary magazine in high school. A Pushcart Prize Nominee (201 5), Stephanie holds a Post MFA Certificate in the
Teaching of Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, MFA in Creative Writing and BS in Journalism. Her articles have been featured in local places like the , and . Fantastical stories, mixed media art and confessional essays have been featured in literary places like , and . Currently, she is finishing a Master's degree in Library & Information Science while working on essays and art inspired by global socio economic issues. On her free time, she enjoys thrift shopping, dancing and traveling. Alexander Chernavskiy | Born in 1 981 in Moscow, Russia, Alexander Chernavskiy is a Russian artist, his career emerged in the wake of the influence of photojournalism traditions and contemporary art as fields of main interest. In 201 0 he finished his secondary education in MSU, in 201 6 he finished 'Free workshops' of MMOMA (Moscow). Michal Mitak | Michal Mitak is a poet and artist from Virginia. His 201 7 Art Bio includes awards from PrimePlus Juried Exhibition, TAA Juried Exhibition, and CBAA Juried Exhibition. Joshua H. Baker | Joshua H. Baker lives with his wife and pets in Oregon, where he works for the U.S. Postal Service and enjoys visiting desolate wilderness areas. His writing has appeared in publications like , and , while his photographs have appeared in multiple shows.. Amanda Bess Allen | Amanda Bess Allen holds a degree in Photogenic Technology and specializes in landscape photography. Allison Morton | Allison Morton is a poet, visual artist and filmmaker originally from Apollo Beach, Florida. She received her BFA in filmmaking from Ringling College of Art and Design, and her MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics from the University of Washington Bothell. She is most interested in working across the different languages of art. She currently lives and works in Seattle, Washington. She has published work in and has work forthcoming in .
Shushanik Karapetyan | Born in Yerevan, Armenia, Shushanik Karapetyan is a psychotherapist by profession and an artist by avocation. She utilizes art as a therapeutic tool with her clients, and her profession as a source of inspiration for self reflection and expression.
Featuring short fiction from Megan Parker, Amy VanDeburgh Fant, Suzzanna Matthews-Amanzio, Tom Barlow, Ann Fisher, and A.A. Azariah-Kribbs;...
Published on Aug 14, 2017
Featuring short fiction from Megan Parker, Amy VanDeburgh Fant, Suzzanna Matthews-Amanzio, Tom Barlow, Ann Fisher, and A.A. Azariah-Kribbs;...